Tiny objects have always been a choking hazard for young children. Any small items, if swallowed, can present a very real danger to the gastrointestinal system.
We’ve written about the dangers of button batteries — the small, disc-shaped kind found in remotes, watches, and digital toys.
Now, pediatricians want to warn parents about the dangers of magnets, especially the kind packaged as desktop toys for adults, meant to be used for building creative structures as stress-relievers.
In July, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took action, based on the dangers that these tiny magnets pose to anyone who might swallow them. In a rare move, the CPSC sued the firm that sells one of the makers of the magnets because of the grave danger they pose to kids.
Controversy swirls around the issue, and one company, Zen Magnets, has refused to cooperate, saying the ban unfairly targets a product that never was meant for children. Zen Magnets has launched a petition drive to retract the CPSC stop-sale request.
These high-powered magnets are not like the average magnet you might find on the fridge door, says the CPSC. They are up to eight times stronger than the magnets typically used in childrens’ toys.
Safety experts are also concerned about teens who try to use the magnets to simulate tongue or nose piercings.
The CPSC concluded that despite the attempts to warn purchasers over the past few years, warnings and education were ineffective as the injury rate climbed at an alarming rate.
So, the CPSC asked retailers to remove magnetic toys known as “Buckyballs” and “Buckycubes” — along with similar products — from store shelves.
The American Academy of Pediatricians also welcomes the decision by several retailers to stop selling the items. “Many families do not realize the danger presented, says AzAAP member Sara Bode, M.D., a primary care pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “The small, magnetic toys are a draw for young kids to play with.”
Each product can contain 100 or more such magnets, making it difficult for parents to recognize when one is missing.
Once swallowed, says Bode, small magnets can pass through to the intestines. If more than one is swallowed, the magnets can attract through the intestine wall.
“This causes your intestines to literally be stuck together with the magnets, that is how powerful these small magnets can be, says Bode. What follows is severe injury — the intestines can rupture, develop a hole or fistula, or lose blood flow, causing part of the intestine to die.
“Many of these children have to go to emergency surgery where the magnets have to all be removed, and the damage repaired,” she adds. “The decision to ban these desk toys is an important first step toward making sure they don’t get in the hands of children and continue to cause severe injuries.”
Magnet ingestion can lead to bowel injury, blockage or severe infection. More than 200 documented cases of children swallowing these magnets have been reported, according to the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterologists.
Most cases require emergency procedures for removal; some require major surgery.
Here’s what the society’s partner site, Gastrokids.com, recommends to keep kids safe:
- Keep tiny ultra-powerful magnets out of the reach of infants and toddlers
- Educate older children and teens about the risks of swallowing these magnets. These magnets are not children’s toys.
- If you suspect a toddler, child or teen has swallowed a magnet, seek immediate emergency care
Safety standards have already been put into place for children’s toys with magnets, says Bode, but these standards need to extend to all products with small magnets.