Parents in the United States and around the world are taking to social media to warn about water beads – a potentially dangerous product being marketed for young children that is causing serious and life-threatening injuries.
Folichia Mitchell, a mom in Maine, is warning other parents after her 10-month-old daughter Kennedy swallowed a Chuckle 7 Road-brand water bead in late October.
Dangerous Product: Water Beads and Catastrophic Injuries
The child’s mother shared a TikTok video explaining that the water bead her baby swallowed swelled inside her intestine, creating a blockage. Kennedy underwent numerous surgeries to help fix her digestive system and battled various infections while in the hospital, her mother said. Mitchell said she purchased the water beads from Target as a toy for her 9-year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum. While Target pulled this particular brand of water beads from its store shelves, the store is still selling other brands of water beads.
Kennedy’s story is not the only one. Ashley Haugen, a Texas-based mother of two girls and owner of The Water Bead Lady website, says her 6-year-old daughter Kipley was seriously injured after she accidentally swallowed a water bead in 2017. Haugen says the beads were labeled as non-toxic, but Kipley still suffered permanent brain damage, which changed the trajectory of her life.
She suffered a brain injury called toxic brain encephalopathy, her mother said. Haugen is bringing attention through her website to these dangerous products explaining that the term “non-toxic” commonly used in marketing is “shockingly unregulated.” She says water beads “can be toxic” and are extremely harmful. Haugen also says Kennedy’s story is one of “dozens upon dozens” she has come across in which children have suffered harm from water beads adding that Kennedy and Kipley’s stories are “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Permanent Hearing Loss
There have also been several reports of ENT doctors seeing children who have stuck these beads into their ears. Doctors are now recommending that children not play with these beads because they are so dangerous. ENT doctors warn that there is a risk of permanent hearing loss because the bead expands and causes irreparable damage.
In one case, a 9-year-old girl lost her hearing in one ear after having an expanded bead in her ear canal for more than ten weeks. Doctors initially could not figure out what was wrong. The girl had fluid draining from her ear, which could be a symptom of an ear infection, but she did not respond to antibiotics. She also denied putting anything inside the ear. Tests revealed significant damage to the ear-canal bone. Doctors said it was so bad they thought she had cancer. The bead, they said, not only damaged the bones of the girl’s middle and inner ear, but also the nerves that are crucial for hearing. Eventually, doctors had to perform surgery to remove the bead.
What Are ‘Water Beads’ or ‘Bath Beads?’
Water beads are small spherical objects. They are made from an adsorbent polymer and can absorb water. They are also sometimes called jelly beads, gel beads, water orbs, and hydro orbs.
Water beads were originally used as agricultural products to maintain soil moisture. Florists also use them to keep floral arrangements hydrated, and they are used as fluid absorbers in products like diapers. Now, water beads are also marketed as children’s toys or therapies for children with sensory processing or autism spectrum disorders.
The problem with these beads is that while they are small when dry, they expand up to 1,500 times their original size when wet. Doctors say when a child accidentally ingests a small bead the size of a pinhead, it gains in size as it moves through a child’s body. As it moves beyond the stomach and into the lower digestive tract, the bead gathers more water, swelling up. Some can grow to the size of a tennis ball and cause a bowel obstruction, which could be life-threatening. The bowel could then twist or tear. If the bowel ruptures, emergency surgery would be required.
If you suspect that your child has swallowed a water bead, it is important to call a doctor right away. Watch for symptoms, including decreased appetite, intense stomach pain, or vomiting. Bowel obstruction, in particular, can be very painful. Children could also potentially choke on water beads. When this happens, the child may begin to gag or cough. If the bead stays in the lungs for a couple of days, the child will have a cough that worsens or even develop pneumonia.
Water Beads are Still on the Market
The expanding beads involved in so many cases of serious injuries are still available and on the market. There are several manufacturers of these beads, which are made from a superabsorbent polymer. The main manufacturer is Orbeez. The beads are intended for kids aged five and older, but there have been stories of even older children getting seriously and catastrophically injured because of them.
The beads are marketed as toys, for use in arts and crafts projects, and as a spa product because they “soothe the hands and feet.” But the reports of injuries have caught the attention of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is looking into these dangerous products.
If Your Child Has Been Injured
If your child has suffered serious injuries as a result of these dangerous and defective products, it is important that you seek immediate medical attention as well as follow-up care. Contact an experienced product defect lawyer who can help you seek compensation for losses, including medical expenses, loss of income, permanent injuries, disabilities, and pain and suffering.