Toddlers and babies love to put things in their mouth. They don't know when something is unsanitary or dangerous, they just like to suck and chew on things. But that natural inclination can cause big problems when they swallow something that is unsafe for consumption.
One little girl in Houston,Texas did just that.
She found a cute little gel ball, put it in her mouth then unfortunately swallowed it. It was a Water Balz.
The problem is that once a Water Balz is submerged in water, or if it ends up in the stomach, it can expand to 400 times its original size.
The 8-month-old child was brought to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston with stomach pain. Her parent's suspected that she had eaten one of her sister's Water Balz and became alarmed when they read the toy's label.
Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, a pediatric surgeon at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, told Reuters Health "It goes in small and grows on the inside and may not come out."
X-Rays taken at the hospital showed that the baby's small intestine was swollen, as if something was causing a blockage, but the X-Rays couldn't reveal what was causing it. The baby's belly continued getting bigger and bigger and her symptoms didn't go away.
"The blockage allows fluid and gas to accumulate, it is just like you step on a hose," said Olutoye, whose report appeared Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Finally, doctors decided surgery was necessary to remove the obstruction. They cut her intestine open and drew from it a bright-green Water Balz nearly an inch and a half across.
Luckily, the baby recovered and is now doing fine.
The colorful balls are small (about the size of a marble) and are an easy temptation for toddlers and even pets. While most parents wouldn't buy this product for their baby, they might buy it or one similar - for their older child. That's often how a toddler finds one to play with.
This type of product is becoming more and more common. It is made from a super-absorbent polymer that is used, not only in children's playthings, but also in pottery and gardening products because of its ability to absorb water.
Pets can also suffer from bowel obstruction, which can be fatal, if they eat one.
DuneCraft Inc. manufactures and markets the Water Balz product. CEO, Grant Cleveland, said he was sorry to learn about the incident with the baby, but noted that the label carries a warning and is recommended for kids over the age of 4.
"An eight-month-old has no business being near that product," he told Reuters Health. "Trying to turn it in to a public risk is absurd."
There are other similar products on the market that pretty much do the same thing. They all promote that the little gel balls will expand when water is added.
This report should serve to raise awareness of the hazards of accidental ingestion of these products, which pose a public health concern, Dr. Olutoye and his colleagues wrote. We speculate that this problem may increase in incidence as a cursory look at department stores suggests that the use of superabsorbent polymer technology is becoming more prevalent in toys, gardening equipment and other household products.
The photo below, from a New York Times article, shows the difference in size once water is added to the Water Balz.
If you've got Water Balz in your home, or a product that performs like it, make sure that your little one is not able to get a hold of them. Keep an eye on your pets too, just in case they think you've bought them a new chew toy.