When we think about the dangers of children swallowing small objects or choking hazards, magnets might not always come to mind. However, the ingestion of high-powered magnets, also known as neodymium or rare earth magnets, is becoming an increased risk. These magnets can occasionally be found in children’s toys and clothes, and adults have started buying them as de-stressing desk toys. They are small (5mm), and usually come in packs of 100 or more so it is difficult to tell when a few are missing. As appealing as those Buckyballs-- small balls made of neodymium magnets-- or baby onesies with quick magnet closures are, it is best to avoid them, so they don’t get in the mouths of babies and young children.
Neodymium magnets can attract each other from significant distances so when two or more are swallowed by children or adolescents, their strong attractive force can cause the magnets to connect, sometimes across loops of bowel. Even though the lining of the intestinal track is strong, when the magnets are attached across the bowel wall, they can cause bowel ulceration, perforations and severe injury including loss of large sections of bowel leading to significant disease or death.
Toddlers and young children are at the highest risk of ingestion, but there have been cases of adolescents ingesting magnets particularly when used to mimic jewelry piercings on the nose and mouth.
How to decrease the risk of magnet ingestion?
Keep these products away from young children who might swallow them. In addition, inform your teenage children about the risk of using the magnets to mimic piercings in their mouth, nose and ears.
Closely monitor any loose magnets or toys that may contain magnets. Call your pediatrician immediately if you suspect your child has swallowed or inhaled a magnet.
Know the symptoms of magnet ingestion:
A few symptoms associated with magnet ingestion are abdominal pain, vomiting and fever. Since these symptoms are common among children, swallowing magnets might not be the first thing that comes to mind as a possible cause. Pediatricians should be mindful of this and ask questions to determine if magnet ingestion could be a possibility.
Report incidences of magnet ingestions:
If your child swallowed a magnet from a toy or other consumer product, report it to the CPSC, a government agency tasked to ensure toys and products are safe. You can visit SaferProducts.gov to file a magnet ingestion report. These reports may help remove harmful products or toys from the shelves.