The United States is in the midst of a helium shortage. Large-scale users are not yet in crisis mode, but helium is in short supply because several overseas plants aren't up and running. And soon, the federal helium program will shut down for nearly two weeks.
About 20 percent of the global market for helium is used to super-cool magnets in MRI machines; another 17 percent is used for laser welding.
Another customer of helium is NASA, which requires a train-car-load of helium for each space-shuttle launch.
Helium balloon fans -- of whatever age -- shouldn't worry about a shortage, however: The balloons suck up only 8 percent of the helium stock.