Water Beads: A Choking Hazard That Left One Infant Fighting for Her Life in the ICU

For years, parents have turned to water beads as an educational tool to help children – especially those with autism – develop sensory skills and hand-eye coordination. In fact, these water beads are also used for decoration inside vases and floral arrangements – educators eventually caught on to the benefits.

Water beads are nothing more than small polymer balls that expand and grow in water – the beads come in a variety of colors. Before the exposure to water, the beads are the size of a marble. After the exposure to water, they can grow up to 200 times their original size. Although non-toxic, they can be dangerous. 

And that’s exactly what one mother in Maine is now learning after she purchased water beads for her 8-year-old autistic son. Unfortunately, her infant daughter ingested one of the water beads and, much like it does inside water, the beads expanded inside her body – resulting in the little girl fighting for her life.

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The water beads ended up blocking her small intestine, causing sepsis and an infection. The mother, Folichia Mitchell, said the doctors are taking things ‘hour-by-hour’ and ‘day-by-day’ with the little girl. Their current fear is that some of her levels will crash or organs might become affected by the infection. 

“She had to have a third emergency surgery to remove part of the bowel from the body to release pressure in hopes that that would help her heart and kidneys and lungs,” said Mitchell to WMTW, adding that her daughter’s kidneys, heart, and lungs were struggling due to a buildup of pressure in the body. 

While parents are warned of a potential choking hazard on the box, Mitchell believes the warning doesn’t go far enough in explaining the true danger behind water beads. She said she would’ve never bought the toy if the warning read ‘can cause blockage’ or ‘dangerous if ingested.’ Now, she’s warning other mothers.

“They’re not marked properly for safety, and I recommend you throw them away and you don’t purchase them for your home. They’re in schools and daycares too, which is super dangerous because parents aren’t even there to supervise that,” she said, hoping others won’t go through what she’s going through. 

This Isn’t the First Time Water Beads Threatened a Child’s Life

Due to their appearance, it’s extremely easy for a child to mistake a water bead for a piece of candy – it’s a similar problem we saw with Tide Pods, where children were dangerously ingesting it without knowing the dire consequences that come as a result. In fact, this isn’t the first time something like this happened.

In 2021, two children in Texas were admitted to the emergency room after ingesting water beads. Both children had water beads lodged in their intestines. It was a scary moment, even for the physicians treating the toddlers. One of those physicians described the water beads as an ‘attractive danger.’ 

While both toddlers survived, they required major surgery to remove the water beads from their intestine – similar to what Folichia Mitchell saw with her daughter. The physician reiterated that while these beads aren’t toxic or poisonous to the human body, they can cause a slew of health problems when ingested. 

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The physician also explained that water beads don’t always get stuck in the intestine. In fact, sometimes they’ll pass right through. Either way, parents are being urged to not take the risk – not necessarily by the companies that sell them, but by the parents that are watching their children fight for their life in the ICU.

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