Why Strong Magnets Can Be Dangerous for Kids
Curious young children have a tendency to go from looking to touching to … tasting. Putting things in their mouths is just a part of being a kid.
While they will swallow non-food things from time to time, when kids 5 and younger ingest toys with powerful magnetic properties, it’s an emergency.
“When a child swallows more than one strong magnet, or a magnet and a sharp metal object, it can lead to injuries to the organs of the digestive system. It has also led to fatalities due to internal infection,” said Sarah Cole, MD, Avera Medical Group pediatric gastroenterology specialist. “The magnets can pinch tissue or cut off blood flow, and that lack of blood supply can lead to a portion of the organ dying, along with sepsis or peritonitis.”
Uniquely Strong Toys
Many kids’ toys have magnets, but the main culprits are products often called rare-earth magnets, and they have much more power – enough to cause harm to delicate internal organs.
“Kids will explore their worlds, and it’s possible they could find these strong magnets in a home, even if they are not in their toy box or room,” Cole said. “We’ve had older kids who have ingested them as well because they were playing with them, pretending they had a piercing in their mouth or tongue.”
Toys with magnets of these types – for kids – are often identified and removed from store shelves. But they can still be out there, Cole said.
“Products like Buckyballs and Polly Pocket have been banned in the past, but they could be something adults have as a toy on their desk, or they could be found at a garage sale,” she said. “It could be that a child has gotten older but still has some in the toy box or room. Parents and guardians need to be careful.”
Treatment for Swallowed Magnets
Zen Magnets or Neoballs are other retail names for the neodymium magnets that can cause harm. If your child swallows these, go to an emergency room. Providers there can take X-rays to determine the location and number of magnets swallowed.
“In some cases, we can prescribe stool softeners and monitor the child to make sure the foreign objects have passed,” said Cole. “In other cases, if they magnets are in the esophagus or stomach, we can remove them with an endoscopic procedure.”
When the magnets have passed into the intestines or colon, where they can potentially do severe damage, doctors can sometimes remove them via colonoscopy. In other cases, children may face abdominal surgery to ensure the removal is successful.
“It’s quite an invasive surgery. Kids who have swallowed magnets may show signs like fever, vomiting or tenderness and pain in their abdomen,” she said. “We highly recommend that adults keep kids away from any magnets of this type, because if swallowed, they can certainly lead to many bad outcomes.”