Water beads could pose life-threatening risk to children: Health Canada

Health Canada is warning parents and guardians to be mindful of purchasing water beads for their children after several international incidents where youths who had ingested them sustained life-threatening injuries.

Health Canada said the tiny beads — also known as jelly beads, hydro orbs, crystal soil, sensory beads or orb beads — are water-absorbing and can grow up to 1,500 times their size when placed in water.

The primary point of focus is cautioning parents to ensure children don’t swallow these beads, which can be fatal.

“Water beads can be very harmful if swallowed or put in the ears or nose,” Canada’s health agency said. “If ingested, water beads can continue to grow inside the body leading to potentially life-threatening injuries, such as intestinal or bowel obstruction.”

Health Canada noted that water beads are most often found in a wide range of products that may be accessible to children. These include toys, art kits, stress balls, foot baths, vase fillers, and gardening products.

International data involving water beads is concerning, Health Canada says

There has been growing concern about water beads and children’s safety, dating back to 2021.

In December 2022, an American mother made national headlines after her baby swallowed a water bead and had to undergo multiple emergency surgeries to clear a blockage in her small intestine.

The toy was gifted to a sibling as a water bead kit. Health Canada made note of this, saying in other reported cases, the beads had been purchased for, and used by an older sibling, but a younger child was able to access them.

The mother updated her baby’s medical journey on social media, once announcing her daughter was on a ventilator.

Water beads

Water beads (CNW Group/Health Canada)

According to data compiled by Health Canada, in the U.S., there have been at least 248 known water bead cases reported to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) from January 1, 2017, to November 22, 2022.

Of the 248 incident reports, 112 were involved in ingestion, 100 were ear canal insertion, 35 involved nasal cavity insertion and one involved eye injury.

From June 2011 to January 2023, Health Canada received six reports related to water beads. Three of the reports involved an injury, one of which was severe.

What parents can do

Health Canada listed several tips to keep youths safe if a child plays with water beads or they’re purchased.

Water beads are typically brightly coloured, which may lead children or adults with cognitive impairment to mistake them for candy. They should be stored in an airtight container out of reach of children, especially those under the age of five.

Health Canada says if children five and up use water beads, closely supervise their play. After using water beads, thoroughly clean the surrounding area and check for any beads that may have rolled away.

If you suspect your child has ingested a water bead, call the Canadian Poison Centre hotline at 1-844-POISON-X.

Parents should monitor for symptoms, including vomiting, abdominal or chest pain, swelling or soreness and constipation. Lethargy, drooling, difficulty breathing or swallowing and a loss of appetite are also possible.

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