Wellness Watch: The Risks Of Gel-Beads To Small Children

Doctors are sounding the alarm about the dangers of the swallow risks of water-absorbing gel beads. They are commonly sold as sensory toys or used in gardens. Pediatrician Dr. Theresa Horton joined News On 6 to discuss more of the risks for young kids.

Wednesday, June 19th 2024, 4:30 pm

By: News On 6, David Prock, Stacia Knight


Doctors are sounding the alarm about the dangers of the swallow risks of water-absorbing gel beads. They are commonly sold as sensory toys or used in gardens.

Pediatrician Dr. Theresa Horton joined News On 6 to discuss more of the risks for young kids.

Stacia: Tell us first kind of what these are and, and just why they're so dangerous.

Dr. Horton: So they're very small little beads and they look like a little plastic toy, or it can look like candy. They are made of a gel that's very water absorbent, so they can start off looking like a sprinkle or a small bead and expand to 100 or more times their original size when placed in water. And then they're squishy, and they're slimy. And there's so much fun to play with. And if you're an older person or a child, and you know that this is just for your hands, that's okay. They can be used in bases, you can put them in and they'll hold water, she can put flowers or plants in them.

Stacia: So, they look super fun. But then you have the problem of maybe younger kids, putting them in their mouth, yeah, and or even somewhere else, an ear or nose. Exactly.

Gel Water Beads

Dr. Horton: And as you saw from the pictures, they can expand tremendously. So if a small child gets a hold of one of these and they swallows it, it can cause complete obstruction of the intestines. If they put it in their ear, it can expand them put so much pressure on the eardrum that it can cause permanent hearing damage. It has it can even go down a lung and collapse a lung completely.

Stacia: Oh my goodness. And so also you mentioned too, that there's something inside of them, like some chemicals that may also do damage to our bodies if they're absorbed.

Dr. Horton: So, they are marketed as nontoxic. But some of them have been found to have a chemical called acrylamide at levels that are higher than what is recommended and have caused brain damage in children who have ingested them.

Stacia: Oh my goodness, what are the signs or symptoms of a child who may have ingested this, maybe the parent looked away for just a second.

Dr. Horton: It's easy to do. They're small, they're round, they roll you may not even know it's on the floor, and the little one can ingest it and it can just look exactly like a stomach virus. They may have an upset stomach, they may be fussy, vomiting, stomach pain, or not passing a bowel movement. If of course sudden trouble breathing. If it goes down an airway. For ears, it may just be irritable because their ear hurts. And it's very difficult because they don't always show up on an x-ray.

Stacia: And so just really quickly, what are some safe alternatives?

Dr. Horton: There is no safe alternative to having a water gel bead if it's going to absorb water and grow that big. It showed me in a home with children.

Stacia: Don't even mess with it. Don't take the risk. Just well find something else to play with. Thanks so much, doctor.

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