Thinking back on the early days of motherhood, I remember being introduced to water beads at a playdate. I thought they were the best thing ever! My children loved tactile sensory bins, and naturally, I thought water beads were a great option. Boy, was I wrong!
Water beads (you may have heard of Orbeez or similar names for them) are a popular kids’ toy made up of small polymer balls that expand in water to create a squishy, sensory experience. They are small and brightly colored and can look like candy, boba balls, or gum, especially before the water beads have expanded to full size. Like most things during the exploratory age, they sadly can end up in kids’ mouths, ears, or noses. Unfortunately, if they are consumed, even ONE of these can lead to choking, bowel obstruction, or worse. For something marketed towards kids, I was shocked and instantly upset when my close friend sent me a TikTok link via messenger about the tragic truth about water beads. While these are not safe for young children and are marketed towards kids ages 5 and up, they were originally designed to be used in flower arrangements.
Although product makers claim that they are non-toxic and pose no danger to children, they can cause serious injuries. Surgeries are occasionally required to remove them. Removing water beads can be complex, as they do not always show up on an X-ray, so it is harder for doctors to identify their location in the body.
Prevention: What You Need to Know
Always check the recommended age range on toys. Water beads are recommended for kids 5 years and older.
Keep in mind that older siblings may have these toys around the house. Keep older siblings’ toys separate to help prevent younger children from getting into toys not age-appropriate.
Determine if water beads are allowed in your house. If you decide to use them, allow kids to play with them only under close adult supervision after they have expanded as per manufacturer instructions. Keep them safely out of reach at other times in a locked area.
Speak to children about not swallowing items that are not food and not putting items in their mouths, nose, and ears. You know your children best, so if you know they tend to put objects in their mouths or don’t follow instructions, this may be a great activity to skip.
Use a water bead alternative. Especially for younger kids or if you feel water beads won’t work for your family.
If your child attends daycare or preschool, talk to the director and the child’s teacher about the dangers of water beads. Make sure they are not being used in your child’s daycare or preschool. If your child attends mommy and me extracurricular activities, make sure those teachers also know about the dangers and ask for them to not be included in their curriculum.
Warning Signs: What to Watch For
The problem with water bead ingestion is that it can be very dangerous as the beads expand from the water in our bodies. Accidents with water beads can happen so quickly, caregivers might not even be aware that something is wrong. Signs and symptoms that your child has swallowed water beads include:
- Coughing or gagging
- Trouble swallowing
- Breathing faster, harder, or a consistent whistle noise with breathing
- Pain, discomfort, and/or anxiousness
- Vomiting stomach contents or blood
- Throat pain
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Not eating
What to do: If you suspect your child has swallowed any water beads, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY! Do NOT wait for symptoms to show.
Do NOT allow your child to eat or drink anything until assessed by a doctor, and do not induce vomiting in your child. Call 911 right away if your child cannot breathe, and their lips are blue. You should also call 911 if your child is vomiting blood.
Each ingestion of a water bead would be handled uniquely, based on the specifics of the case. The best thing to do is get help immediately.