With the holidays and gift giving season on the horizon, we wanted to take a moment to discuss the topic of magnet safety. Magnets and their amazing magnetic properties are fascinating to children and adults alike. This is the reason they are a popular choice among toy manufacturers and have been incorporated into many children’s toys as well as many other common household items. There are valuable skills and knowledge that can be acquired by children through the ability of being able to construct different three dimensional shapes and objects out of magnets. However, parents must be aware that magnets are extremely powerful and can have very damaging or even fatal consequences if not used properly. Magnets present a very serious danger if ingested into the body either through swallowing or inhalation.
The rise in popularity of magnetic toys and building sets over the past decade or so is directly correlated with a rise in magnet related emergency room visits. Studies show that ER visits involving magnet related injuries among Americans ages 21 and younger have increased five times over a nine year span. There was a reported 22,500 cases of visits due to children and teens either purposely or accidentally swallowing or inhaling extremely powerful magnets known as rare earth, or neodymium magnets. These magnets although often tiny, possess super strengths and can have serious consequences once inside the body.
The most common occurrences of ingestion happen in small children who are playing with magnets and are not being closely supervised. However, there are quite an alarming amount of cases where teens or young adults accidentally inhale or swallow magnets that are being used to hold fake nose or tongue piercings in place. It is imperative that adults educate their children about the dangers of magnets and are diligent in monitoring smaller children if they are using any product that has magnetic components. Parents should also check their child’s magnetic toys for any loose pieces and keep an eye on the amount of pieces the child is playing with so that they can ensure none are missing and could have been swallowed by the child, as it is difficult to diagnose the symptoms of magnet ingestion.
Often times there are little to no symptoms of magnet ingestion for a day or two. When symptoms do present themselves, they often resemble flu like symptoms at first. There may be nausea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. Time is a crucial component when diagnosing a child who has swallowed magnets, if left untreated it can result in severe shock or even death. The real danger occurs when two or more rare earth magnets are ingested into the body. This poses such a serious threat because the magnets are so powerful that they will attract to each other through walls of tissue or organs. This attraction can cause a perforation or tearing of the bowel or pin the walls of the intestines together causing a blockage. Most cases, if caught in time, are not fatal but they generally require surgery to remove the magnets and repair or remove damaged tissue. If you suspect that a child has ingested a magnet, take them immediately to a health care facility or call 911. Do not induce vomiting or give them any food or drink.
Magnets are a very common, useful, and powerful tool for so many different products in our lives today, but that does not mean that we can take them for granted. Magnet safety should be taught to parents and educators, and this cautionary message should then be passed down to our youth. We urge you to please handle magnets responsibly.