Water-Absorbing Balls Are Another Hidden Hazard

Hidden Hazards

Water Balz can grow to 400x their size
Water Balz can grow to 400x their size, which is not good if a young child swallows them. CPSC

Choking is one of the leading causes of death for young children. And while parents often watch out for some of the more common choking hazards, such as hard candy, marbles, coins, and uncut hotdogs, etc., it always seems like there are new ones that come along that we don't think about.

New Choking Hazards

Some of these new hidden hazards, when ingested, can cause serious problems even if they don't lead to choking, as we have recently seen with pre-packaged laundry detergent pods and high-powered magnets.

Problems with magnets occur if two or more magnets, or a magnet and another metal object, are swallowed, as they can attract each other through the walls of a child's intestines. The magnets can then become trapped, leading to an intestinal blockage or perforation, both of which are life-threatening medical emergencies.

The latest warning comes as an 8-month-old infant required surgery after swallowing a superabsorbent polymer ball - a rapidly expanding, water-absorbing ball (Water Balz) that can grow up to 400 times their original size. As they come in 'an array of vibrant colors' and explode when you throw them, they certainly do sound like fun, but it is easy to see how they could cause problems if swallowed.

Hazards of Water-Absorbing Balls

A recent study that will be published in the October issue of Pediatrics, "Water-Absorbing Balls: A Growing Problem," reports on the case and highlights the dangers of this toy, which may appear 'candy-like to young children.' They found that the growing balls can easily grow larger than the small intestine in just six hours, blocking the intestine and quickly leading to a life-threatening medical emergency.

It is important that parents:

  • be aware that items using superabsorbent polymer technology may be found in other toys (Spider Balls), gardening equipment (Crystal Soil Water Beads), and some crafting/household products (Water Pearls). Magic Growing Jelly Balls are even advertised as a 'great party favor.'
  • keep these water-absorbing balls and other items using superabsorbent polymer technology out of the reach of young children.
  • seek immediate medical attention if one is ingested, as it will likely need to be endoscopically removed as soon as possible.
  • look out for recalled beads and balls, including the Doodlebutt Jelly BeadZ, Jumbo BeadZ and Magic Growing Fruity Fun water-absorbing balls (2013 recall), Despicable Me Water Balz (2012 recall), Cosmo Beads and a Monster Science Growing Spider polymer balls (2012 recall), and Be Amazing! Colossal Water Ball (2012 recall)

And as with other hidden hazards, in addition to trying to avoid them, it is just as important to simply be aware that they exist. In the case described above, the parents weren't even aware that their child swallowed the Water Balz toy. They had thought that she had ingested a piece of candy and didn't find out until later that it was actually a piece of her older sister's toy that was made from an expanding polymer material.