Expanding Ball Poses Swallowing Risk For Children

By Amir Khan on September 17, 2012 2:51 PM EDT

Child Sleeping
Magnetic balls, coins and other small objects all pose a swallowing risk to young children. But at Texas Children's Hospital, doctors recently saw something completely new -- a child who swallowed a superabsorbent polymer "expanding" ball. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Magnetic balls, coins and other small objects all pose a swallowing risk to young children. But at Texas Children's Hospital, doctors recently saw something completely new -- a child who swallowed a superabsorbent polymer "expanding" ball.

Eight-month-old Aunraya was admitted to the hospital with a variety of serious symptoms. Her great-grandmother and legal guardian, Freida Deweese, thought she swallowed a piece of candy, but it turned out to be a ball that expands up to 400 times its size when put in water, and it was wreaking havoc with Aunraya's digestive system.

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The ball expanded inside Aunraya's belly, blocking up her digestive system. This led to her vomiting bile, a distended belly and painful constipation. She immediately went into surgery to have the  ball removed, and doctors said any later and it could have poked a hole in her gut and caused serious problems.

"There is a tendency to wait and wait," Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, a pediatric surgeon at Texas Children's Hospital, told ABC News. "We were fortunate enough that we did [surgery] early enough."

Doctors said this is the first case of digestive system blockage from one of these balls, and they decided to conduct an experiment to learn more about them, publishing the results in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers put five of the expanding balls into water, and measured how big they were for four days. Within two hours, they had doubled in size. After 12, they doubled again, up to 4 centimeters. After four days, the balls increased up to 5.5 centimeters.

While the toy may pose a hazard to younger kids, Grant Cleveland, CEO of Dunecraft, Inc., which manufactures the balls, said the toy is made for older kids.

"[These toys are] obviously not for an 8-month-old," he told ABC News. "You wouldn't let your 8-month-old near [loose] change or marbles. Even Legos are dangerous to an 8-month-old. The marked age is 4 and up, so they're not supposed to be around toddlers. We've sold all types of balls, probably for like eight years. We've never had a problem, shipping millions of units."

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