Water beads may pose a life-threatening danger to children: Health Canada


Health Canada is warning about the life-threatening dangers of water beads if swallowed by children, the agency said in a public advisory Thursday.

The beads can “grow up to 1,500 times their size when placed in water” and “can continue to grow inside the body leading to potentially life-threatening injuries, such as intestinal or bowel obstruction,” Health Canada said, citing cases where some injuries required surgery.

Also known as jelly beads, hydro orbs, crystal soil, sensory beads or orb beads, they can be found in toys, art kits, stress balls, foot baths, vase fillers and gardening products.

The beads are sold in their smaller, dehydrated form and may be promoted to parents and caregivers of young children, specifically for sensory bins. They are also slippery and bouncy.

“Water beads are typically brightly coloured. This may lead young children or adults with cognitive impairment to mistake them for candy,” the health agency said, classifying the issue as a potential choking, aspiration and injury hazard.

In several incidents, Health Canada continued, children gained access to them after the beads had rolled to another area of the home and were “overlooked during cleanup.” In other reported cases, the beads were being used by an older sibling, but a younger child accessed them. Additional cases included young children using water beads while at school or in child care.

According to the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, there have been at least 248 reported water bead incidents from Jan. 1, 2017 to Nov. 22, 2022. Of those cases, 112 involved ingesting the beads, 100 involved inserting them into ear canals, 35 involved nasal cavity insertion and one case was an eye injury.

Water beads have hit a new wave of popularity among kids after being popularized in toy videos on TikTok and YouTube. As a result, Canadian pediatricians are monitoring for a rise in cases — like what happened to Ashley Haugen’s 10-month-old baby who changed from a talkative little girl to losing what verbal communication she had due to a “harmless” gift of water beads.

Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, a pediatric emergency physician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, told the Star in March that water beads are often used as a sensory toy for older kids with behavioural or developmental disabilities.

“The main danger of water beads are that when they’re not full of water, they’re quite tiny — like millimetres in size,” he said.

“And so little children — like children under three who put everything in their mouths — may get exposed to them. If they ingest it, and there’s water obviously in the stomach and intestine, those beads will expand and cause a blockage.”

Rosenfield said nobody should be buying water beads if they have kids under the age of four in the house. Ideally, kids shouldn’t play with the toy until they’re eight or older, he said.

Symptoms may vary, but according to Health Canada, they include: vomiting, abdominal or chest pain, abdominal swelling or soreness, constipation, lethargy, drooling, difficulty breathing or swallowing and loss of appetite.

If you suspect that your child has ingested a water bead, call the Canadian Poison Centre hotline at 1-844-POISON-X. Quebec residents may call 1-800-463-5060 to reach the Centre anti-poison du Quebec.

With files from Kevin Jiang
Mahdis Habibinia is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Reach her via email: [email protected]


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