It is found commercially, for decorative use, or for hydration of plants. Sometimes the beads or water beads are also sold as toys. Sometimes multicolored, these marbles can be mistaken for candy by children, and ingested.
The problem is that the ingestion of beads or water pearls can be dramatic, warns the National Health Security Agency (Anses) in a new post.
Indeed, these beads, formed of superabsorbent polymers (PSA), swell on contact with water. Also, if they have not reached their maximum size when the child swallows them, they may continue to swell in the digestive tract, and lead to intestinal obstruction. With, in the most serious cases, an acute intestinal obstruction requiring urgent surgery and which can lead to death.
Poison control centers have recorded a marked increase in the number of cases of ingestion of water beads, from 2 cases in 2010 to 54 cases in 2018. “Half of them concerned children under three years old”, Specifies ANSES.
Ingestions occurring at home but also in communities
In his toxicovigilance study report, ANSES indicates that in 80.8% of cases (156 cases out of the 193 identified in all between 2010 and 2019), ingestion took place at home. Among these, 39.1% (61 cases out of 156) corresponded to “non-toy” use, that is to say the ingestion of PSA beads from a vase / flowerpot / decorative object. Among the cases that occurred in children’s communities, a quarter (6 out of 24 cases) corresponded to ingestion of PSA beads present in vases or flower pots, but 58.3% (14 out of 24 cases) occurred as part of activities organized for fun or creative purposes. Yet these water beads are clearly a bad idea for children under 36 months, who tend to put everything in their mouths.
ANSES alerts parents and early childhood professionals to the extreme need to keep these marbles and water pearls out of the reach of children, and not to divert its use for creative workshops.
In the event of ingestion, even suspected, it is recommended to immediately contact a poison control center, which will detail the action to be taken.
ANSES considers, in view of the data studied, that it “also appears necessary to strengthen the knowledge of emergency physicians, surgeons and pediatricians of this [cause] unusual acute obstruction of the small intestine”. During the questioning with the parents, the Agency advises to systematically discuss the possibility of an ingestion of this type in the face of signs suggesting an intestinal obstruction in the child.