Water beads

Warning: Popular water beads may cause intestinal blockages in kids

This sensory toy also poses a choking hazard


As families shop for toys for the children in their lives, UC Davis Children’s Hospital experts are warning parents and caregivers about water beads. The sensory toy poses a choking hazard and can cause intestinal blockages if accidentally swallowed.

Sold under several brand names including MarvelBeads, Elongdi and Orbeez, these colorful beads can resemble candy to some kids. Some of the beads are initially the size of a frozen pea, and when exposed to water, they expand to the size of a large marble.

Target stores removed one brand of water beads from shelves last month, after an infant accidentally swallowed one and was hospitalized.

“We have seen children in our emergency room who have swallowed water beads, which can lead to intestinal blockages and can be life threatening,” said UC Davis pediatric trauma surgeon Minna Minsing Wieck. “We want to urge the public not to purchase these products, particularly for small children who may accidentally swallow them.”

We asked Wieck more about water beads and what parents and families need to know.

Who are water beads for?

Water beads are often used for sensory play and developing fine motor skills. They might be purchased for older children but are not appropriate for younger siblings, some house guests, or children with oral sensory needs, as water beads are very tempting to swallow. Water bead play must always be supervised. Remind older children not to put them in their mouths, noses or ears.

Why are water beads dangerous?

A child could swallow a water bead and it can expand in their throat or intestines, causing a blockage. We have seen this in our emergency room. A neighboring hospital reported that a child swallowed several of these beads and they caused a bowel obstruction, resulting in multiple surgeries and a lengthy hospital stay.

What are the signs and symptoms of water beads causing intestinal blockage?

When a child has abdominal bloating, pain, vomiting and is not passing stool, we are concerned that there is some sort of blockage. The sudden onset of these symptoms is very concerning, particularly with children who have never had abdominal surgery.

Other signs that swallowed beads are causing a blockage may include refusing to eat, drooling, wheezing and complaints that something is stuck in the throat or chest, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics

It can be difficult to diagnose that a child has ingested water beads because not all objects are visible on X-ray. If parents suspect or witness that their child has swallowed water beads, please let the emergency room team know right away.

What should I do if my child has swallowed water beads?

If a parent discovers that their child has swallowed water beads, they should call poison control immediately at 800-222-1222 and take their child to the emergency room right away.

What should I do with my water beads?

If you have water beads, please lock them up out of reach of small children or throw them away. Used water beads can be disposed of in the trash. They will biodegrade over time.

Related links

Water Beads: Harmful if Swallowed, Put in Ears - AAP

Are water beads toxic – Poison.org