8 Helium Uses in The World – Elements and Properties

Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and symbol He. This element has gas form having no color, odor and taste. Helium element has mono atomic gas structure as well. Helium has the lowest boiling point in all elements. Helium is also the second lightest element after hydrogen. In term of its occurrence in nature, helium is the second most abundant chemical element we can find in earth. Helium has many uses in the various applications due to its special characteristic like low boiling point, low solubility, low density and high thermal conductivity.

The production of helium all over the world has reached 32 million kg or 180 million standard cubic meters in 2014. Helium is mainly used in the cryogenic applications like cooling system In MRI and NMR spectrometers. Other helium uses include welding system, pressuring and purging system, leak detection and maintenance of controlled atmosphere gas.

You can also find helium uses in medicine. Although this application is still minor compared to other applications, helium has shown some promising results in the medical fields. This article will cover helium uses in medicine including its health effects. Thus, here are the helium uses in the world:

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1. Helium Uses in Medicine for Therapeutic Gas

The common helium uses in medicine is as therapeutic gas or also known as medical helium. This is actually the inhalation gas which is used in treat certain diseases. Firstly, Sayers and Yant discovered that helium oxygen gas mix can be breathed by humans without effecting any discomfort in 1926. Then, people started to use oxygen helium mix to replace oxygen nitrogen mixture in some applications.

Helium is less soluble rather than nitrogen and it has the ability to lower the nitrogen formation and decompression issues faced by deep sea divers. In 1934, helium was finally used as the therapeutic gas by Barach. He used helium since it has the lighter weight than the air, so it could possibly enhance the move of oxygen in patients with certain problems like asthma exacerbation and upper airway obstruction. Differ from xenon gas, helium doesn’t contain the anesthetic characteristic.

In the higher pressure state, helium will not become anesthetic, instead it improves the minimum alveolar concentration and creates convulsions. Helium has the non-immobilizer properties meaning that this chemical will not cause anesthesia problems.

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2. Helium Uses in Medicine for Respiratory Diseases

As medicine, helium is popularly used in the respiratory related diseases. Helium is preferable due to its light weight compared to other gas mixtures. We know that gas flow will depend on the density and viscosity of certain gas element. Helium is low in density so that it can decrease the airway resistance resulting in the better airflow to the lungs organ. People with the problems with high airway resistance are the best fit for this medical method.

Helium is advised for curing certain respiratory issues like asthma exacerbation, upper aiway obstruction, bronchiolitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), post-extubation stridor, croup and some others. Based on the study, helium is easier to breathe and also more effective as deposition for radio-labeled particles in lung. For the acute asthma exacerbation patient, albuterol nebulized with helium or heliox will give high enhancement in spirometry result compared to the albuterol nebulized with oxygen. This is due to low density properties of helium which boosts the deposition of albuterol in the distal airways.

For other patients like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis, helium has successfully increased the clinical scores and lowered the tachycardia and tachypnea problems. Helium also has better ability in removing CO2 compared to the mixture of nitrogen oxygen. In another case like children with acute asthma disease, helium gas therapy can improve the dyspnea, peak flow and pulsus paradoxus. This chemical gas also can decrease the WoB (work of breathing) in children which will avoid them from respiratory muscle fatigue or ventilatory failure. Thus, here are the helium uses in the world.

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3. Helium Uses in Medicine for Cardiovascular Diseases

Helium gas as the therapeutic method has shown great result in protecting myocardial tissue from ischemia problems. Scientist conducted the experiment with rats to see how this helium gas can protect the cardiovascular system. It resulted that helium has the cardiovascular protective effect to the rat with hearth ischemia problems due to additional methods called mitochondrial uncoupling and Ca2+ sensitive potassium channel activation. Another experiment was also performed to rabbits with LAD coronary artery occlusion.

It showed that helium gas can highly decrease the infarct size in that rabbits. The cardiovascular protection showed by helium through the activation of pro survival signal kinases and mPTP (mitochondrial permeability transition pore) opening mechanism. Helium is able to protect myocardium tissue from ischemia and reperfusion problems in cardiovascular system. Helium has also given the great result related to the pulmonary vessel works in cardiovascular system.

Based on the experiment, pulmonary artery pressure will decrease with nitric oxide inhalation from helium which means that vasodilator effect of nitric oxide will be happening greater in the helium inhalation rather than nitrogen gas inhalation. From this study, we know that the delivery of nitric oxide to lungs will be best fit using helium gas that nitrogen gas.

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4. Helium Uses in Medicine for Neurology

We know previously that neon and helium gas will not have anesthetics properties until certain pressure level. For the higher level of pressure, neon and helium gas may promote the neurological syndrome effects. These possible effects include tremors, convulsions and hyper excitability which will fight against the anesthetic affects. Even though the researches regarding the neuron protective ability of xenon gas have been extensively conducted, there are only few studies for other gases like helium. There must be more investigation and study conducted to see the effect of helium treatment to nervous system in organism.

A research showed that helium has possible better effect to neurology rather than hyperoxia. Helium has better result in the decreased infarct volume and neurological deficits. Another study conducted by Coburn also has shown that helium has the neuro protective effect to human neuro system. The helium treatment for traumatic brain injury at the certain pressure level resulted in the positive neuro protective effects in the in vitro model study. These studies have given the promising results to really discover the helium uses in medicine for neurology.

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5. Helium Uses in Medicine for Surgery

Helium also has the promising use for the surgery, especially in the laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery itself is the type of surgery which performed in the abdominal diseases. This surgery needs distending abdomen through inhalation of carbon dioxide gas to show abdominal structure and give space for medical instruments manipulation if needed.

However, carbon dioxide absorbed by peritoneum may change the physiologic properties which can make the surgery more complicated. This carbon dioxide is highly possible to alter the heart and lungs parameters. Then, scientist tried to find new chemical element to replace carbon dioxide, and it turns out that helium may become the great alternative for carbon dioxide.

The study conducted showed that helium will cause less cardiopulmonary changes in the laparoscopic surgery. Helium will be the best choice for laparoscopic rental surgery type. In this type of surgery, patients have higher risk to undergo some issues with the carbon dioxide absorption during the surgery. Patients with special problems like congestive heart failure, chronic hypoxia from an intrapulmonary shunt and COPD will possibly face issues regarding the carbon dioxide clearing from their bloodstream after the surgery. The use of helium plasma technology may be very useful for certain application like abdominal and laparoscopic surgery.

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Helium Uses for Other Applications

Beside its useful application in medicine, helium also has other uses in various fields. Here’s some helium uses in other applications:

  1. For MRI. The actual major use of helium is for cryogenics application. Cryogenics itself is the study of production and characteristic of material in its very low temperature. Helium is often used in the cooling system for superconducting magnet material which mostly found in the magnetic resonance imaging or MRI application. Helium has been commercially used as the cooler for superconducting magnets in MRI scanners.
  2. For gas shield. Helium is also utilized as the gas shield in the arc welding application. Helium can provide the protective atmosphere for arc welding with any reaction of oxygen and hot metal. This use is mainly used in the semiconductor industry for manufacturing silicon and germanium crystal. Helium is also useful in the production of titanium and zirconium as the high temperature gas. This gas is also great as carrier gas for gas chromatography.
  3. For microscopy. Another future uses of helium as medicine can be found out in the microscopy field. Helium ion scanning microscopy or HIM is the imaging technology type with the better ability to provide sub nano meter resolution pictures of biological tissues. Helium ion scanning microscopy can show the epithelium on the rat kidney through higher and more detailed image quality. The scientists are able to see more detail on the membrane texture and nanoprojection on glomerular.

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