They are a common toy that children love. They are colourful, great for tactile play, can bounce and overall tend to bring out smiles from children of all ages. These are water beads, which are also known by the brand name of one manufacturer – Orbeez.  

For the uninitiated, water beads are made of a polymer that grows in water. You can buy them already in some water, and they will continue to grow if you add additional water, or you can buy them dehydrated, and they look like a very fine bead or very coarse sand. When they are placed in water, they can grow up to 1500 times their original size. 

“This is an issue if you have young kids in the house that may think they’re candy, and either eat them, or put them in their nose or their ear, and it can cause a blockage,” explained Stephanie Mann. She is a product safety officer with Health Canada, which is issuing an advisory for the toys after some reports of incidents of children ingesting the toys.  

“There has been a number of incidents in Canada,” Mann continued. “Health Canada looks at our neighbours to the south and the United States as well as international reports. We’ve noticed the trend in the United States as well as some serious international incidents which is why we’re issuing the advisory.” 

The water beads are very good at absorbing water, and when they end up in the digestive system can absorb a fair amount of it, which results in them growing to the point they block the esophagus, the intestines or the bowels. Some of the cases reported around the world have required surgery to remove the bead that was causing the blockage.  

“We’re advising that any kids under five should not have access, so they should be out of the house, or out of sight, out of reach,” Mann stated. “If you do have older children or other people in the household that are using them with older children, definitely under supervision and then ensure that you’re cleaning up the area very well. These are slippery, they’re bouncy and there have been cases where beads have rolled away under furniture or into other rooms and then other, younger children or pets have gained access.” 

If someone is suspected to have swallowed a water bead, Mann said you should call the Canadian Poison Centre hotline at 1-844-POISONX (764-1669). Incidents can also be reported to Health Canada directly by filing an online form