Magnet Ingestion Injuries Among Children Increased Substantially: Study

A soon-to-be-published study indicates that more and more children are suffering injuries each year after swallowing toy magnets that can attract across intestinal walls, reinforcing recent government actions to remove such products from store shelves.  

According to a preview of research that will be published in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that small magnet ingestion injuries have tripled over the past decade.

Researchers looked at trends of magnetic ingestions at The Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, from April 1, 2002 through December 31, 2012, indicating that about a third of all child ingestion cases at the hospital involved magnets.

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The study found that overall ingestion of magnets tripled among children under the age of 18 between the periods of 2002-2009 and 2010-2012. The number of injuries involving multiple magnets increased by a factor of 10 at just that one hospital. The size of the magnets decreased by 70%, coinciding with the rise in popularity of sets of small rare earth magnets that are often sold as office toys.

At the hospital studied, six children had to undergo surgery for sepsis or because of potential for imminent bowel perforation from 2010 to 2012.

In 2012, following numerous reports of child injuries in this nationwide, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began a campaign to get small toy magnet sets off the market.

Toy Magnet Safety Concerns

Magnet toy sets have been linked to a number of serious and potentially life threatening injuries for children and young adults in recent years, occurring after one or more of the small balls are accidentally swallowed. This often has been reported among infants, toddlers and teens attempting to simulate tongue or cheek piercings.

If more than one of the powerful magnets are swallowed, they may attract to each other while moving through the intestines. This may cause intestines to twist, create blockages or tear intestinal walls. Often this results in the need for emergency surgery and can result in death or severe life-long health problems for the child.

Initial symptoms associated with swallowing the small magnets may be similar to that of a common flu, consisting of vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain, causing the problems not to be promptly recognized until certain medical examinations are done, further delaying treatment and allowing the magnets to attract.

An estimated 3 million of the magnet sets have been sold in the U.S. since 2010. Despite the regulatory efforts to place strong warning labels on the products and launch an educational campaign for consumers, reports of injuries have continued, leading safety regulators to conclude that warnings are insufficient to make the products safe and that a ban on the sale of such products is warranted.

The CPSC requested that 13 manufacturers of the magnetic ball toys issue voluntary recalls and stop sales in 2012.  While 11 companies complied, the regulatory agency was forced to file rare administrative complaints against two manufacturers, seeking to force an involuntary Buckyball recall and Zen Magnets recall. The administrative complaints are a way for the CPSC to make a mandatory recall of a dangerous product, and this was the first time in 11 years the regulatory agency has had to take such action in an effort to protect consumers.

In April 2013, the CPSC and a number of major retailers announced a Buckyball and Buckycube recall, calling for customers to return or get rid of the magnet sets.

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