Poison control centres have recorded a very sharp increase in the number of cases of ingestion of water beads, from two cases in 2010 to 54 in 2018. Half of them concerned children under 3 years of age.
These water-absorbing gel beads (also known as water pearls) are sold commercially, mainly for decorative use or for watering plants, but they may also be sold as toys.
These beads are often multi-coloured, making them attractive to young children, who may mistake them for sweets and swallow them. If the beads have not reached their maximum size at the time the child swallows them, they can continue to swell in the digestive tract and cause potentially fatal intestinal obstruction.
To avoid accidents, the Agency reiterates that parents and carers should keep these items out of the reach of children. In the event of confirmed or suspected ingestion, contact a poison control centre immediately for advice on what to do.