The Potential Dangers of Water Beads
Water beads have been a popular topic in craft and gardening circles for quite some time. Instagram and TikTok are filled with videos that feature these items in sensory bins and other activities for children. Unfortunately, these products are raising a red flag amongst parents and safety organizations.
Here at Child Safety Store, we always aim to be on top of current safety conversations so we can warn our readers of potential hazards. Today, let’s look at the dangers of water beads, and how to respond to water bead-related injuries. Below, we even offer a safer alternative.
What are Water Beads?
First, let’s review what these products are, and how they work. Water beads are small gel beads that are designed to soak up and absorb water. When exposed to water, these beads can grow up to 200 times its size. They are also sometimes called Orbeez, jelly beads, gel beads. water orbs and polymer beads.
In gardening, they are often used as a substitute for potting mix to help maintain moisture for houseplants. In a children’s playroom, they are often used in sensory bins, sorting activities, and more.
The Dangers of Water Beads Vs. the Benefits
Water beads can be used as a learning tool, help hand-eye coordination, and encourage sensory skills, especially for children living with autism. However, more and more reports of severe injuries are alarming parents. In fact, many are making the case that the dangers of water beads far outweigh these benefits. Not only that, there are calls for the product to be banned altogether.
You see, water beads are small and appealing to young children. This is just the type of thing that a young child would love to put in their mouth. But, if swallowed, water beads can be life threatening or present severe and life-altering injuries. For instance, the bead could expand inside the body and obstruct the small intestine.
In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced in recent months that it is has been meeting with groups that are calling for water beads to be banned. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its Healthy Children parenting website to warn about potentially severe and fatal injuries.
Reported Incidents Demonstrate Fatal and Severe Injuries
Search results on the CPSC’s SaferProducts.gov website brings up many incident reports regarding water beads. Common injuries were a result of choking on or swallowing the beads. In some cases, the beads were even found in curious children’s ears and noses.
Sadly, the result of these injuries has included severe vomiting, brain damage, multiple surgeries needed to assess and diagnose the problem, lung collapse, intestinal obstruction, massive internal infection, and even death.
What’s worse, it can be difficult to discover that the beads were ingested unless the incident was witnessed. According to the National Institutes of Health, the beads are radiolucent and difficult to detect on x-rays.
What to Do if Water Beads Are Ingested
Often children can’t communicate about something they swallowed. Therefore, it is important to look out for these symptoms:
- Refusing to eat
- Complaints that something is stuck in the throat or chest
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling and soreness
If you discover that your child has swallowed water beads, act immediately. Call poison control at 800-222-1222 and take the child to the emergency room right away.
Safe Use of Water Beads + a Water Bead Alternative
If using water beads, be sure to take proper precautions to avoid possible ingestion. For one, these products should be kept away from young children who may be more likely to try to ingest them. When in use, the child(ren) should be supervised. The floor should then be vacuumed in case of any rogue pieces, which can be quite small. When not in use, the beads should be kept safely out of reach.
One popular alternative to water beads is tapioca pearls. They have a similar consistency, and are edible. Therefore, there is less of a concern for them being swallowed. They can even be dyed with color. Still, these pearls may not be recommended for infants. As always, get the recommendation of your baby’s pediatrician if you are unsure of giving your baby any new foods.