Child Safety Reminder: Keep Babies and Toddlers Away from Small Magnets
If a child swallows multiple magnets on separate occasions, they may be attracted to each other from within the child’s intestines and/or colon. So far at least one child has died and 19 others have needed surgery in the United States since 2003 after swallowing small, powerful magnets used in toys, such as the Mega Brands’ Magnetix building sets shown below.
Mega brands recalled 3.8 million Magnetix building sets, added warning labels and agreed to pay $13.5 million to settle lawsuits as a result of children swallowing magnets from their toys. Mattel Inc. has also recalled toys because of concerns with small, powerful magnets being swallowed.
According to the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), about 20 percent of non-food items swallowed by children between the ages of 6 monhts and 3 years old require surgical removal. Even small magnets pose a serious risk because one magnet can pull another through the intestinal wall and cause internal bleeding. “Any time more than one magnet passes beyond the stomach of a child, urgent surgical consideration is required,” Dr. Oestreich said in an RSNA press release.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) outlines three cases in which a child tried to eat small magnets, each resulting in terrible consequences. It is recommended that you visit the link to learn more about the symptoms to look out for, but here are the summaries:
Case 1: Beware of Younger Siblings Near Older Children’s Toys
On November 24, 21005 a 20-month-old baby boy was taken to an emergency department, where he went into cardiopulmonary arrest within minutes of arrival. Resuscitation efforts failed, and the boy died before doctors could find out what was wrong. An autopsy revealed nine cylindrical magnets, each 6 mm in diameter, were found stacked together in his abdomen. The magnets had magnetically joined across two loops of intestine, causing a volvulus (twisting of the bowel) that compromised the blood supply to the bowel and led to necrosis (death of cells), perforation, and sepsis (infection). The magnets had become dislodged from an older sibling’s toy building set, which included multiple plastic shapes with magnets embedded in the corners and edges. Although the victim had not been permitted to play with this building set, he might have found dislodged magnets in the carpeting of the family playroom.
Case 2: Candy Magnets
On September 16, 2005 a 2-year old boy was diagnosed with dehydration and a suspected bowel obstruction, and was immediately taken to the local hospital. Radiographs revealed a rod-shaped object in the boy’s abdomen. His mother recognized the object as three magnetic, rod-shaped pieces from his older sibling’s building set, which were attached end to end. The boy was transferred to a health-care facility that had a pediatric surgeon. They were removed during surgery the next day. Each piece measured 25 mm by 7 mm. When shown the pieces, the boy called them “candy.” He was discharged from the hospital after 1 week.
Case 3: Doctors Can Be Wrong
On May 5, 2006, while using his teeth to separate magnetic pieces from a toy building set, a 5-year old boy accidentally swallowed one of the pieces. His mother became concerned he might have swallowed a small battery and called the boy’s pediatrician, who advised her to take him to a local hospital. Radiographs revealed the magnetic piece in the child’s stomach. Doctors advised the mother that the piece would probably pass normally but that she should monitor the child’s stool for up to 5 days. Two days later, the boy told his mother that he had swallowed another toy, a small metal ball; this did not concern her.
By May 18, the mother reported that the magnet and metal ball had not passed. The child’s pediatrician ordered another radiograph, which found the two metal objects had stuck together farther along the intestines. The mother was advised that they would probably pass naturally. However, on May 24, the pediatrician ordered another radiograph, which showed that the objects had not moved. The next day, the mother informed the pediatrician that she had learned of a fatality that occurred after ingestion of magnets. After consultation with specialists on May 26, an surgery was scheduled for May 31. The surgeon removed two disc-shaped magnets, each 10 mm in diameter, from the boy’s large intestine and a steel ball, also 10 mm in diameter, from the small intestine and resected the affected bowel. The boy lived.
The fact that children swallow many foreign objects that pass naturally through the digestive tract often causes doctors and parents to not be concerned when a child swallows a small object. Unless the child is choking, parents may not even discuss the issue with the child’s pediatrician. If your child swallows any non-food item, contact your doctor immediately. If you did not see what it was that the child swallowed, take your child in and demand a radiograph (X-Ray). And keep babies and small children away from objects that contain small magnetic parts.
Be informed. Be safe.