Magnetic Toys Can Be Life-Threatening For Kids
March 12, 2013

Ultra-Strong Magnets Pose Serious Threat To Kids When Swallowed

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), there is a growing danger of children ingesting magnets that can lead to life-threatening health complications.

Kids swallowing magnets is probably not a new phenomenon, but some of today´s magnets are an average of 10 to 20 times stronger than previous ones, creating new dangers. In the past, magnet ingestion was treated with a wait-and-see approach, relying on the body's ability to simply pass objects without major incident. However, according to the recent medical study, today´s high-powered, rare-earth magnets can lead to life-threatening problems like bowel perforations.

According to the authors of the new case study, magnet ingestion is becoming increasingly common. They based their findings on data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which indicated that the number of visits to emergency departments for magnet ingestion has increased significantly over the past decade.

Lead author of the study Dr. Daniel Rosenfield from the Department of Paediatrics at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) says that one of their key messages to parents is that "these magnets are a relatively new and growing concern."

"Unlike traditional ferrite magnets (i.e. fridge magnets) these new magnets are made from neodymium-boron, and are 10-20 times more powerful," Rosenfield told redOrbit. "Since they came off patent in the early 2000s, they are also much more prevalent in the consumer market due to increased economies of scale."

He also says that they are actively trying to get the word out to parents, teachers, daycare owners and anyone else who cares for young children or older kids with development disorders about the dangers associated with ingesting these magnets.

"If a child has a witnessed or suspected ingestion, they must seek immediate medical attention," Rosenfield told redOrbit. "While not imminently dangerous, multiple magnet ingestion can cause bowel perforation (i.e. creating holes across the gut), infection and require emergency surgery if not detected."

He suggested that "if parents own any of these desktop toys, they should be discarded, or at a minimum, put out the reach of children. These magnets should not be used in the classroom or in any context in which children could reach them."

According to Rosenfield, the swallowing of multiple magnets can lead to magnets attracting each other through loops in the gastrointestinal tract, which could result in pressure necrosis and eventual perforation.

"For physicians, they must be aware of the dangers of these ingestions, as they can't be thought to be innocuous like coin ingestions," he told redOrbit. "Physicians should incorporate teaching about these magnets at routine health visits (i.e. at 18-month checkups)."

"Knowledge regarding the potential dangers of these magnets is the first step. Health professionals need to warn parents of these dangers early. Additionally, doctors need to have their guard up if a child comes to them with vague abdominal complaints, and ask parents about potential ingestions. While rare, these ingestions are simply detected (via plain film xray), and need prompt attention and close follow up."

Last year, a toddler had to undergo invasive surgery to remove 37 Buckball magnets that she had swallowed. The high-powered magnets that three-year-old Payton Bushnell swallowed tore holes in her lower intestine and stomach. The incident happened just months after the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sent out a warning that it had already received 14 reports of problems related to these magnets.