What you wish you’d known about magnets

Condoned playground hidden danger magnets
Photo credit: Unsplah

Children are notorious for eating everything from dirt to bugs, but doctors warn of one common item that can pose a serious danger if swallowed: magnets. Magnets are available in building style, connectivity toys which are said to spark children’s creative spirit and help with motor skills and coordination. See examples below.

Children magnetic toys

However, the most common magnets for children to swallow are those marketed for adults. These pellet-style, high-powered magnets are sold as stress relieving and novelty desk toys for adults. They can be 30 times stronger than a standard kitchen magnet and children find them fascinating.

Watch the video below on the danger of adult magnet toys.

What makes these magnets so dangerous? 

Their strength and size make them dangerous. When a child swallows two or more magnets, the magnets can attract and pull together with enough force within the child’s body, causing digestive tissue to be trapped between them. This cuts off blood supply to that area, which can be life-threatening. Surgery is often needed to remove the magnets and fix the damaged tissue. The same thing can happen when a child swallows one magnet and an object that can be attracted to it, like a coin.

Read here the story of a four-year-old boy who had to have part of his colon and appendix removed after swallowing 13 tiny magnets from a toy.

Is the danger limited to small children?

The answer is No. Adolescents also swallow these toys, but for different reasons. They use them to pretend they have a tongue piercing, putting one magnet on top of the tongue and one on the bottom. This can cause them to accidentally swallow the magnet. The risk of injury is the same as it is for younger children.

Read here the story of a teenager who almost died after swallowing a magnetic tongue stud.

What are the symptoms of magnet ingestion?

If a child swallows magnets, there might be no symptoms initially, giving a false sense of relief to parents. It might be hours or even days before the symptoms begin. These may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever. Because these symptoms are common, they are often mistaken for a viral illness and the true cause of illness may not be suspected right away. However, a delay in treatment can lead to increased severity of consequences.

What should you do if you suspect your child has swallowed magnets?

If you think your child has swallowed magnets, contact your pediatrician or nearest emergency department. In most cases, an X-ray will be needed to determine if your child did swallow magnets, where they are, and how many are there. If there is more than one, your child might need a surgery to remove them.

How can you protect your child from the dangers of magnets?

Swallowing magnets is a serious, life-threatening matter. Prevention is key. Follow the below tips to protect your younger and older children:

  • Keep adult desk toys out of reach of your child and pets, for example, in a locked cabinet. Be sure to discard them safely, too.
  • Talk to your older child and teen about the serious dangers associated with using magnets as fake piercings in their mouths or noses.
  • Choose refrigerator magnets that are large enough they cannot be swallowed or pose a choking hazard to your child.
  • Closely monitor products at home with small or loose magnets and keep them away from your child who might swallow them.
  • If you decide to buy or keep the magnetic toys:
    • Make sure the magnet toy passes the choking hazard test. Watch the video below to learn how to do that.
    • Supervise your child when playing with the magnetic toy.
    • Inspect the magnetic toy for any broken or unsafe parts.

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