Water beads: A new toy to consider whether it’s right for your child

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Water beads, the colorful squishy little marble-like balls that can be fun to run through your fingers, are under new scrutiny after several incidents nationwide of children swallowing them.

The biggest issue: Most water beads increase in size when exposed to water. If a child swallows one or more — in a digestive tract that obviously contains moisture — they can expand and require surgery to remove.

A pea-sized water bead can grow to the size of a tennis ball.

“Water beads contain super-absorbent polymers that can expand to hundreds of times their original size, after exposure to water,” according to National Capital Poison Center. “These beads, which are often sold as toys for young children, can cause life-threatening intestinal blockage if swallowed.” Beads the size of marbles can expand to the size of a tennis ball.

The multi-colored beads are often marketed as sensory toys for children with autism. But they can also look like gum balls or other candy, according to Children’s Wisconsin. Children’s Hospital and Health System.

Target last month stopped selling a toy by Chuckle & Roar that contained water beads after a 10-month-old girl in Maine required several surgeries to remove one water bead. Her mother told “Good Morning America” she bought the Chuckle & Roar activity toy for her 8-year-old son, who has autism. The fun turned to panic after the girl started vomiting and she turned lethargic. A bead in her digestive system was discovered. She’s had several surgeries. Her mother told Good Morning America she was told the damage could be long term or her daughter might not even survive.

The beads can also represent a choking hazard to young children, particularly if they expand and block an airway, according to Children’s Wisconsin.

A Texas mother is also trying to warn parents that some water beads may not be as innocent as they seem. Ashley Haugen of Texas says her daughter became ill and suffered permanent health issues after swallowing at least one water bead. She operates an educational site aimed at helping families.

The SaferProducts.gov site operated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) contains more than a dozen reports of injuries or illnesses involving various brand of water beads in recent years.

One brand of water beads by Eco-Novelty was recalled in 2013 because of the risk that the expanding beads could cause an intestinal obstruction, the CPSC said.

Water beads can also be marketed for decorative purposes, for example, in vases.


Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.

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