September 17, 2012 — Parents should take precautions against letting children swallow Water Balz, a marble-sized toy made of super-absorbent polymer that can grow to 5.5-centimeters across when exposed to water. The journal Pediatrics published a report from doctors in Texas who had to surgically remove one of the balls from the intestines of a 9 month-old girl. The surgeons said they were lucky to remove the ball before it grew large enough to perforate her intestines and cause life-threatening complications.
Children frequently swallow small objects, but it is rare for these objects to cause serious issues. If they make it to the stomach, they usually pass through the entire digestive tract. Surgical removal is necessary in fewer than 1% of cases.
Unfortunately, Water Balz are unlikely to pass through a child’s intestines. The products are small, colorful, and resemble marbles or candy. According to the website, “Water Balz grow from the size of a pea to the size of a racquetball.” Within a few hours, the toys can double in size. They can continue growing after several days. They do not dissolve easily.
The infant girl who swallowed the toy starting vomiting bile, could not eat, had a distended abdomen, and painful constipation. When her condition continued to worsen over the next 48 hours, her parents took her to the hospital. Doctors tried to visualize her abdomen with an X-ray, but the toy did not appear on X-rays. The doctors did notice that the child’s intestines looked abnormal, and when they inserted a camera, they found the obstruction.
The doctors promptly ordered surgery and removed the object from the girl’s body. She has since recovered completely. In their report, the doctors noted that it was fortunate they removed the toy quickly. If it had continued growing inside her body, it could have perforated her intestines and caused life-threatening complications. They also noted that the toy did not show signs of deterioration after being inside her digestive system.
The authors of the study also raised concerns about pets and wildlife eating the toys. Animals can also suffer from life-threatening intestinal obstructions after ingesting the products. The Texas surgeons noted two reports of birds dying after eating the products.
In recent months, experts have raised concerned about the hazards of several common household items. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) recently forcibly recalled Buckyballs, a type of small magnet toy that has caused dozens of children to suffer intestinal perforations of obstructions. Laundry detergent pods have also caused injuries, because children mistake the colorful single-load products for candy. Button batteries have caused at least 66,000 injuries in the last two decades, according to a study published in May.
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