Water beads, also known as gel beads or jelly beads, are very small balls made of gel-like materials. The beads are similar to the size of a marble, and after exposure to liquid, such as water, the beads expand. Jumbo water beads can grow to be the size of a tennis ball. While they might seem fun to children, these beads can be dangerous.
According to Andrea Wazir with University Health, the small beads can easily be swallowed, inhaled or inserted into other areas of the body, such as the nose or ears.
Once the beads are exposed to saliva, stomach acid or other liquid, they expand in the body.
Due to their gel-like consistency, it is often difficult to move the beads through the body. The longer they remain exposed to fluids, the larger they grow. The beads are also very difficult to see on traditional X-rays, Wazir said. They are malleable, taking the shape and form of the organ or part of the body where they are located.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of water bead ingestion may be very similar to other conditions, Wazir said.
Some of the warning signs of water bead ingestion include:
- Gastrointestinal issues: nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea.
- Unexplained skin rash.
- Weight loss with normal appetite.
- Change in motor skills: walking, sitting, standing, etc.
- Trouble breathing or swallowing.
- Any new or concerning symptoms.
Generally, caregivers should be attentive to any changes in their child’s behavior, especially if there are water beads in the home, school or day care setting, Wazir said. The size and bounce of the beads makes them easy to lose in carpet or under furniture.
Swallowing water beads requires immediate medical care. It is important for caregivers to tell medical professionals that they have water beads in the home, Wazir said. This can save time as physicians look for clues to what might be causing symptoms in their child.
To protect against water bead ingestion, Wazir said to remove the beads from your home. Water beads can be bagged and thrown out with the household garbage.
In addition, talk to the parents of your children’s friends. Similar to other questions you may ask if your child will be in someone else’s home, it is important to know if the home has water beads. Talk to your day care provider and ask them to remove water beads from the facility.
Wazir also said to talk with your child’s school. Ask them to remove water beads from play and arts and craft areas. Additionally, ask your therapist, if your child receives therapy, to not use water beads with your child.
Lastly, spread the word. Share information about the dangers of water beads with other parents.
For more information, visit University Health’s website.