Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Water Beads: Are they poisonous, dangerous or both?


Water beads have been around for quite a while now, mostly to keep household plants moist and as decoration in flower arrangements.  More recently, however, they have been marketed and sold as a sensory toy for children.  Water beads are made from super-absorbent polymers, which can bind with water or other fluids to grow 10 to 1500 times their own weight. Some beads are smaller than others when dry, but once placed in water, can get as big as a large marble. There are many different brands of colorful water beads, but they can all easily resemble candy, gum, or boba, making them attractive to swallow.   Even though they are labeled as non-toxic, they can be a hazard if swallowed because they are not digested by the human body.   

Swallowing water beads can be a choking hazard, and in large quantities, can cause life-threatening conditions.  The beads can absorb the fluid found in the stomach and expand to a size that might cause a blockage in the intestine.  A blockage can prevent fluids or food from passing through. It can take a few hours for a blockage to occur, as it takes time for the water beads to move through the digestive system and absorb fluids. Intestinal blockage often requires hospitalization and surgical removal of the water beads. The water beads are not always noticeable on x-rays or other imaging, so it is important to let doctors know if a person had access to or could have potentially swallowed water beads. 

Some of the warning signs of an intestinal blockage may include:  

·   Belly bloating, pain, discomfort, and/or anxiety

·   Trouble swallowing or refusing to eat

·   Nausea and vomiting                                                                        

·   Unable to pass stool or gas

·   Complaints that something is stuck in their throat or chest      

·   Increased drooling  

If water beads are placed in the nose, there is a risk of blockage of the nasal passage.  If placed in the ear, there is a risk of blockage of the ear canal once the beads expand. In both instances, this might require a trip to the pediatrician or emergency department for removal.  Water beads have the potential to cause significant damage to the structure of the ear leading to permanent hearing damage. 

If you have water beads at home, it is important to follow these simple prevention tips to help keep little ones safe. 

  Always supervise children when playing with water beads

  Only allow children to play with the expanded, wet beads (not in the smaller dry form)

  Follow the product age recommendations and keep them out of reach of younger siblings

  Remind older children not to put them in their mouth, nose, or ears

  Sweep or vacuum the play area after each use

  Store water beads in an air-tight container and out of reach and sight of children and pets

  If you believe that someone has swallowed water beads, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222

  Review the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for additional information