9 Investigates

Water beads: How these sprinkle-sized toys can become deadly when swallowed

ORMOND BEACH, Fla. — An Ormond Beach boy nearly died after swallowing a toy that’s not only a choking hazard, but that expands when wet.

Water beads, which are colorful and could be mistaken for candy, start out smaller than a sprinkle, but when you put them in water, they expand.


Although the product is labeled for kids ages 3 and up, there’s nothing to tell parents of kids about how dangerous that expansion can be if swallowed.

Ormond Beach mom Sara Gent had no idea how dangerous they could be until she saw a video on TikTok of a mom talking about how the tiny beads can cause major intestinal blockages.

Read: Couple arrested after driving 8-year-old in truck bed full of water beads

That would be foreshadowing for what was about to happen to her 14-month-old son, Henry.

Though the Gents thought they had gotten rid of all of the beads their older daughter had used for sensory play, as toddlers do, Henry somehow found and swallowed some.

Sara didn’t know what was wrong and rushed Henry to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children on Dec. 11.

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“His lips were purple. I was just freaking out. I was like, ‘Something else, something’s wrong,’” she said.

Finally, he threw up three water beads. An ultrasound revealed a fourth. It had traveled through his intestines and grew bigger and bigger until it lodged itself at the top of his colon, causing a complete blockage.

“That’s where we start to see some very serious consequences,” said Dr. Jenna Wheeler, a pediatric critical care doctor at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

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Wheeler said several children, like Henry, have been hospitalized across the country after ingesting water beads.

The U.S. Poison Control Center reports a 6-month-old died from a post-surgery infection after suffering the same blockage.

“People really need to know what they’re buying, what the risks are, and what can happen before we continue to put these out there for kids,” Wheeler said. “It’s not just an innocent toy.”

Read: Consumer watchdog report shows recalled toys are popping up online

The Gents said they know how lucky they are to have their smiling boy back at home, and are hoping their story serves as a warning to other families.

“This could have been a very, very, very different news story very quickly, and I’m so grateful,” Sara said.

Sara teamed up with moms with similar horror stories across the country to petition the Consumer Product Safety Commission to create stronger warning labels or ban the beads.

The Change.org petition to do so has more than 50,000 signatures.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.

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