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Are Water Beads Toxic? The Labels Say They're Not

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Colorful, squishy, bouncy and just all around fun, water beads have become a popular playtime choice for parents. The beads provide an affordable and entertaining activity for little ones, as they can spend hours squishing and bouncing the colorful tiny balls with their little hands. Knowing that young children have the tendency to put toys in their mouths, many parents wonder, are water beads toxic?

Water beads, also referred to as fairy eggs, dragon eggs, or jelly balls are highly absorbent polymer gel balls, which can grow up to 400 times their size when placed in water, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. They are generally used in flower vases as party decor, but have become popular due to their effectiveness in children with sensory processing disorder. Water beads are usually sold with the description "non-toxic," which may put parents at ease when handing them to children, but recent statements by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) tell parents that the beads can be harmful if swallowed or put in ears.

The colorful beads, which may not show up on X-rays, can look like candy to children, tempting them to put them in their mouths. If ingested, the beads could grow to the size of golf balls and become internal obstructions, leading to stomach pain, vomiting, constipation, or more serious internal injuries, the AAP noted.

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According to The Adelaide, in Australia, a 2-year-old girl was hospitalized after ingesting water beads, with fears that they could block her airways or intestines. In Texas, ABC News reported that an 8-month-old swallowed aWater Balz toy, which completely blocked her digestive system and required surgery to remove it before it could poke a hole in her stomach and create further complications.

The beads can also cause serious ear injuries, according to Live Science, if they get stuck in kids' ears, and could potentially lead to permanent hearing loss.

For parents who sense that their children have a tendency to put things in their mouths, the good news is that there are also completely non-toxic, edible versions of water beads. Alternatives to gel water beads include completely edible Boba pearls, according to Kids Play Box, or all natural basil or chia seeds, as shown at Fun With Kids At Home.

Parents and children who enjoy and benefit from water bead play should do so with complete parental supervision. Although they are marketed as "non-toxic," they can still be harmful if used the wrong way.