Is a set of high-powered magnet toys on your shopping list this holiday season? If so, be careful about leaving them under the Christmas tree or anywhere a child can reach them. The attraction to magnets is understandable since the force field produced by these objects appears to be a magical trick. But these high-powered magnets can be very dangerous to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract if swallowed.
Initially, patients may have little to no symptoms, but this can worsen quickly if injuries develop. Once in the GI tract, magnets connect to each other and may pinch the intestinal wall in between them (think of attaching two magnets with a piece of paper in between). As a result, patients can develop serious and even life threatening damage to the intestines. Small children may developnternal bleeding and perforation of the delicate intestinal walls, which often requires surgery to repair of the intestines as well as remove the magnets
Consider the near-fatal case of 22-month old Brandon who swallowed eight magnets. His parents took him to the hospital after he had been sick for two days. An X-ray showed the magnets in his GI tract. He was hospitalized for three weeks and had to undergo seven surgeries to repair the damage the magnets caused. He lost about 90 percent of his intestines and now requires a feeding tube to eat. Brandon will need an intestinal transplant before he can eat normally again. Click here to watch the case of a 3-year-old Oregon girl who swallowed 37 magnets.
A survey released by the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) found that the “majority of magnet ingestions (51 percent) occurred in children 1 to 6 years of age.” Accidental ingestions have also been reported in teenagers who use the magnets to mimic piercings. The most popular high-powered magnets are round shaped, desk toys intended for stress reliever and for use by those ages 14 years and older. These magnets are sold in sets of 100 or more and so it is difficult to know if a magnet is missing from the set, which can delay the discovery of a swallowed magnet by a toddler until symptoms appear.
Epidemiological data showed 480 cases of high-powered magnet ingestions from 2002 to 2012; 204 (nearly half) of which occurred in the past 12 months (October 2011 to October 2012). Eighty percent of the total reported cases required surgical or other invasive interventions. Although the risks and dangers are well-known, current labeling and precautionary measures have not been effective and must be improved. So much so that in September 2012, the U.S consumer product safety commission proposed a ban on the sale of certain high powered magnet sets.
Click here to watch a great video on these magnets from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
So if you received a gift set of high-powered magnets this holiday season and you have children at home, we suggest you promptly make them inaccessible (and we don’t mean re-gifting them). Keep all small magnets and magnetic products as well as any potentially harmful substances locked up and away from children and pets. And as always, keep the Illinois Poison Center phone number, 1-800-222-1222 posted and handy. Please call not only if an exposure is known but even if a problem is only suspected. Keep safe and all the best to you in the New Year.
From all of us at the Illinois Poison Center have a safe and happy holiday season.