Update Dec. 2019:
Number of children swallowing dangerous magnets surges as industry largely polices itself
Gift giving season is upon us, and most of us have a child on our gift list. There are a few toys that bring out the scrooge in us here at IPC, because of the dangers they pose to children if ingested.
The first problematic item is one that contains a button cell battery. Button cell or disc batteries are coin shaped batteries used in a variety of electronic items such as toys, remote controls, musical greeting cards and hearing aids.
They have the potential to cause severe injury or even death when swallowed, especially in small children. If the battery becomes lodged in the esophagus, ear or nose, it can generate an electric current and damage the surrounding tissue. Larger button batteries (which are between the size of a US penny and a US nickel) are just the right size to get stuck in the esophagus of a child.
The first picture shows one of these button batteries placed into a slit in a hot dog. The second picture is the hot dog after 3 hours. Imagine the hot dog as the esophagus of a 2 year old child!
A child who is suspected of having ingested a button battery must have an X-ray immediately to locate the battery, even if they are not having symptoms. If the battery is found to be in the esophagus on the Xray, it must be removed. To avoid the risk, do not let small children play with toys or devices that contain button cell batteries. Keep hearing aids and remote controls with button cell batteries out of reach of children. Be careful when discarding a used button battery, so a child cannot retrieve it from the trash.
Another potentially dangerous item is one that contains small, high powered magnets (size: 3-6 millimeters; about the size of a pea, or a little bigger). These magnets are used in toys (like construction sets or desk toys) and faux piercings.
If multiple magnets are swallowed, the magnets connect to each other and may pinch the intestinal wall or stomach in between the magnets. As a result, patients can develop serious and even life threatening damage to the intestines. Internal bleeding or a perforation (hole) of the delicate intestinal walls can occur. Just like button batteries, if it is suspected that magnets have been swallowed, the person must get an X-ray immediately. Studies have shown that when multiple magnets are ingested, 31-56% of patients require some form of surgical intervention (either to remove the magnets or to repair damage). Here is a sad story about the death of a 19 month old caused by ingestion of multiple magnets. Although it’s not just small children that are at risk; serious injuries have been reported in teenagers as well (common scenarios are swallowing a faux piercing used in the mouth area, or inadvertently swallowing magnets while attempting to separate them with the teeth). Keep these high powered magnets off the gift list this year!
Don’t forget that if someone swallows anything that could be potentially harmful, call the IPC at 1-800-222-1222. Yes, we are here 24/7 on the holidays too! Click here for a Complimentary Packet for you and/or a friend (contains a sticker, magnet and first aid instructions for a potential poisoning).
Happy Holidays from the IPC,
(Hot dog photos in this post courtesy of Steven Marcus, MD)