Orbeez are superabsorbent polymers, more commonly known as water beads. They are small, brightly colored beads that expand to more than 100 times their original size when placed in water. Orbeez are marketed as a children’s toy, meant to be played with in water. However, children may be tempted to put them in their mouths and accidentally swallow them. This leads many parents to wonder: what exactly happens if someone accidentally eats Orbeez?
What are Orbeez?
Orbeez are tiny plastic beads, typically measuring about 3-5mm in diameter when dry. They are made of sodium polyacrylate, which is a superabsorbent polymer originally developed in the 1960s. When Orbeez are soaked in water, the sodium polyacrylate absorbs the water molecules and expands. One single Orbeez can grow to the size of a marble when fully hydrated.
Orbeez were first sold as a plant fertilizer called “Water Pearls” in the 1980s. They absorbed water and slowly released it to the plant’s roots. In the early 2000s, they began being marketed as a children’s bath toy called Orbeez. Now they are sold by many brands under names like water beads, hydro gels, gel beads, and more.
Are Orbeez toxic if ingested?
The short answer is no, Orbeez are not toxic. However, they can present a choking hazard if swallowed.
Orbeez are made of safe, non-toxic materials. The main ingredient, sodium polyacrylate, is approved by the FDA for use in food packaging and diapers. It is also used in products like contact lens solution and toothpaste.
However, Orbeez pose a potential choking risk due to how much they expand in liquid. A single bead can grow to over 100 times its original size when hydrated. If a child swallows dry Orbeez, they have the potential to dangerously expand in the stomach after absorbing fluids. This could lead to obstruction of the airway, intestinal blockage, or damage to the linings of the stomach or intestines if a large amount is ingested.
What should you do if Orbeez are swallowed?
If you suspect your child has swallowed Orbeez, call the Poison Control helpline immediately. Do not let the child eat or drink until speaking to a professional.
Poison Control can provide specific first aid advice based on the child’s age, health status, and how many Orbeez were ingested. They will likely advise you to take the child to the emergency room, especially if they are showing any symptoms of obstruction or distress.
At the ER, the doctor will evaluate the risk of intestinal blockage. This may involve:
- Physical exam
- X-ray to see if Orbeez are obstructing the digestive tract
- Monitoring vital signs
If a large amount was swallowed or the beads are clustered together posing a blockage risk, the child may need to undergo endoscopy. This involves inserting a tiny camera on a flexible tube down the throat to view the beads directly. The beads can then be retrieved before they expand and cause an obstruction.
What symptoms may occur after swallowing Orbeez?
Most of the time, small ingestions will pass through the body without issue before expanding enough to cause problems. However, larger ingestions have the potential to cause scary symptoms including:
- Choking or coughing
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal pain
Any child displaying these signs after swallowing Orbeez requires immediate medical care. Call 911 if choking, difficulty breathing, or other potentially life-threatening symptoms develop.
How long does it take for Orbeez to move through the body?
There is limited data on exactly how long Orbeez take to pass through the digestive system once swallowed. Experts estimate it takes 1-3 days, but it varies case by case.
Factors like how many were ingested, the age of the child, stomach contents, and intestinal motility can all impact transit time. Orbeez that have expanded into large sizes or formed clumps may also get stuck and take longer to pass.
Doctors will want to monitor the child for at least 3-5 days after ingestion to ensure the beads have fully passed through without complication. Repeated X-rays may be done over several days to track the Orbeez through the intestines.
What are complications of Orbeez ingestion?
Most of the time, swallowed Orbeez pass through the body without causing major issues. But in some cases, severe complications can develop including:
- Intestinal obstruction – Orbeez can clump together and fully expand to block the intestines. This is very painful and prevents the passage of food and stool.
- Bowel perforation – Extremely sharp edges on expanded Orbeez may puncture holes in the intestinal wall, allowing leakage of stool into the abdomen.
- Respiratory issues – Expanding Orbeez in the esophagus or airway can make breathing very difficult.
- Allergic reaction – Some children may have unrecognized allergies to ingredients in Orbeez.
These complications can become life-threatening and lead to a need for emergency surgery to remove obstructing Orbeez or repair bowel perforations. Thankfully they are rare with prompt medical assessment and treatment.
How can Orbeez ingestion be prevented?
The best way to prevent accidental Orbeez ingestion is close supervision during play. Do not allow children under 5 years old to play with Orbeez, as they are at highest risk of swallowing them.
When older children play with Orbeez, closely monitor them to discourage putting the beads in their mouth. Set clear rules that Orbeez are for water play only and should not be handled outside of the designated area.
Store Orbeez securely out of reach when not in use. Discard any that fall on the floor or outside of the water, as these would pose a greater choking risk if swallowed. Consider alternative toys like bubbles, sand toys, or bath crayons for younger kids prone to mouthing behaviors.
If a child is known to have swallowed Orbeez in the past, they should not be allowed to play with them again without very close one-on-one supervision. Help kids understand the serious risks if Orbeez are swallowed.
How are swallowed Orbeez removed from the body?
If Orbeez become lodged in the airway, immediate removal is needed. This may involve:
- The Heimlich maneuver to try to dislodge the obstruction.
- Manual removal using forceps if visible in the throat.
- Emergency endoscopy to visualize and extract swollen Orbeez.
If Orbeez make it further down the digestive tract but then block the intestines, surgical removal is typically necessary. This can be done a few different ways:
- Endoscopic retrieval – Using an endoscope inserted through the mouth to grasp and pull out Orbeez obstructing the esophagus or stomach.
- Colonoscopy – Inserting a scope through the rectum to try to break apart and suction out Orbeez blocking the lower colon or rectum.
- Manual abdominal surgery – Making an incision and opening the abdomen to manually locate and remove obstructing Orbeez.
- Laparoscopy – Using a camera and specialized tools inserted through tiny incisions to find and grab expanded Orbeez.
The specific method depends on the location of the blockage and how significantly the intestines are obstructed. Thankfully emergency removal is rarely necessary if medical care is promptly sought after ingestion.
What precautions are needed after swallowing Orbeez?
After a known or suspected ingestion, a period of watchful waiting is crucial to ensure complications do not develop:
- Monitor for any signs of respiratory distress or abdominal pain.
- Examine stools closely for presence of Orbeez over next several days.
- Follow up X-rays to confirm Orbeez have passed through the body.
- Avoid eating coarse, fibrous foods that could snag on Orbeez stuck in the intestines.
- Drink plenty of water to help flush Orbeez through the system.
- Come back to the ER immediately if vomiting, fever, severe pain or other issues occur.
The doctor may prescribe a mild laxative to keep the stools soft and prevent straining during bowel movements if Orbeez were swallowed. Always call Poison Control or return to the ER for assessment if any concerns come up after the initial ingestion.
Can swollen Orbeez be visible in the stool?
Yes, after being swallowed, hydrated Orbeez can become visible in stools once they pass further through the intestines.
Parents may notice unusually large and colorful lumps in the diaper or toilet after a known or suspected ingestion. The beads revert back to a smaller size once re-dried, but can still be seen mixed within feces.
Finding Orbeez in the stool is reassuring, as it means they are moving through the digestive tract as expected. However, it is still important to monitor stools for several days to ensure all Orbeez have fully passed. Any lingering signs of intestinal obstruction also still need prompt re-evaluation.
Is squishing wet Orbeez between the teeth dangerous?
Yes, this popular sensory play activity can present a choking and aspiration risk.
When Orbeez are soaked in water, they become soft and squishy. Children often enjoy squishing the gummy beads between their teeth or biting down on them.
However, the swollen Orbeez can easily break into smaller jelly-like pieces in the mouth. These small gel fragments can then slip down the throat inadvertently. This raises the risk of choking if they block the airway.
The slippery texture also makes them easy to accidentally inhale into the lungs. This causes a severe aspiration pneumonia risk.
For this reason, it is safest to avoid putting expanded Orbeez anywhere near the mouth. Supervise closely and set clear rules against pretending to eat Orbeez or touching them with the teeth.
How are Orbeez beads cleaned up after play?
Use the following precautions for safe cleanup of Orbeez:
- Dry Orbeez carefully with towels to begin absorbing water before disposal.
- Do not allow Orbeez to be poured down drains as they can expand and clog pipes.
- Scoop dried Orbeez into a sealed container, do not vacuum loose beads.
- Check area thoroughly for any remaining beads missed during cleanup.
- Discard Orbeez that have been mouthed or contain bodily fluids.
- Consider wearing gloves during cleanup to avoid skin irritation.
Taking the time to properly dry and contain Orbeez after play reduces the risk of accidental ingestion. Remind children to never handle Orbeez outside of supervised play to limit access.
Proper cleanup also prevents Orbeez from ending up in landfills or waterways where they can potentially harm wildlife and ecosystems. Most brands now provide prepaid recycling envelopes to mail used Orbeez back.
Can Orbeez be played with safely under supervision?
Yes, Orbeez present minimal risks during closely monitored playtime. The choking hazard mainly exists if beads are left unsupervised where children may access and mouth them.
To enjoy Orbeez safely:
- Only allow older children to handle Orbeez, keeping away from those under age 5.
- Designate Orbeez as an outdoor-only toy if possible.
- Play in a contained sensory bin and avoid pouring on open floors.
- Prohibit running, throwing, or flicking water beads.
- Ban toys and objects that could grind or smash beads when wet.
- Enforce no-mouth rules very strictly during play.
- Discard any Orbeez found on the ground or with dust/debris.
- Store Orbeez in a secure container away from younger kids when not in use.
With attentive supervision and well-defined safety boundaries, Orbeez can provide hours of creative, engaging sensory play. Just take all necessary precautions to avoid accidental ingestion by younger children.
Orbeez present a low toxicity risk, but can pose a choking hazard and intestinal obstruction if swallowed, especially in large amounts. Close adult supervision is essential to prevent ingestion during playtime. If a child is suspected to have swallowed Orbeez, seek immediate medical attention for evaluation and monitoring. Most cases resolve without complications once the beads have passed through the digestive tract, but complications like bowel obstruction may require urgent surgical intervention. Take necessary safety precautions with storage, usage, and cleanup to keep kids safe and allow Orbeez to be enjoyed under careful adult supervision.