Two Children Hospitalized After Swallowing Popular ‘Water Bead' Toy

Doctors say the trendy non-toxic water-absorbing toy has been the cause of abdominal issues when swallowed

NBC 5 News

Water-absorbing gel beads sold as children's toys have recently posed a serious threat to small children when swallowed.

Carey Cribbs, M.D., an emergency department (ED) physician at Cook Children's Medical Center says she has recently seen two cases of children swallowing the trendy children's toy.

"We've had two toddlers come into the ED with the beads lodged in their intestines," Dr. Cribbs said. "Usually the beads pass with no problems, but these two patients required major surgery to remove the beads from their intestines."

The beads are popular in floral arrangements and spas, but with their squishy texture, they are also sold as a sensory toy for children.

"They start as small and squishy, but when you put them in water, they expand up to 100 times their size," Dr. Cribbs explained.

As a veteran physician who's been at Cook Children's since 1988, Dr. Cribbs said when she saw a picture of the colorful beads, she could see why children would try to eat them.

"They're very colorful and attractive, and the texture is something you might want to put in your mouth," Dr. Cribbs explained. "It reminds me a lot of Boba."

However, her message to parents is to monitor children while they play with the beads or don't allow children around them at all.

"When they're first swallowed, they aren't dangerous," Dr. Cribbs said. "But as they sit in the intestine, they grow and can cause a blockage."

The beads aren't toxic, so if swallowed, they aren't poisonous. However, not all children are lucky enough for the beads to pass through their system.

Dr. Cribbs says to remember, the smaller the child, the larger the bead, the more likely the bead is to get stuck in the child.

"With all small toys, there's a choking risk and parents need to be vigilant," said Dr. Cribbs. "Unfortunately, probably half of all ingestions of foreign objects are not witnessed by anyone, and you don't know that it's happened until your child is choking, gagging, vomiting, or having other symptoms."

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