Magnet Toys May Pose Serious Problems for Children: Report

Pediatricians are warning that small, powerful toy magnets could be deadly for children if they are swallowed. 

A new report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics highlights the dangers associated with popular, high-powered, BB-sized magnetic balls, which are known as rare earth super magnets, and sold in packages under names like Nanospheres, Buckyballs, Zen Magnets and Magnet Balls.

The magnetic toys are designed to be formed into shapes and patterns, and are sold primarily as executive desk toys. However, if a child or teen swallows more than one of the small magnets, they can attach to one another across the intestinal wall, causing severe internal damage, such as obstructions and perforations. It is often necessary to remove the magnets surgically, which can result in further damage to the child’s stomach and intestines.

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There have been 200 reports of children swallowing the magnets since 2008, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), with some resulting in emergency surgeries. At least one death, that of a 20-month-old child, has also been linked to swallowing the magnets.

Although the magnet toys are labeled for adult use only, but the AAP report indicates that many parents do not see the warnings or realize the danger they represent to small children and teens.

The silvery magnets may be attractive for young children to place or around their mouth, which may result in the magnets being swallowed. Older children and teens have also accidentally swallowed the magnets while trying to simulate having a tongue or lip piercing, according to the report.

A number of similar magnetic toys marketed specifically for children have also been linked to serious injuries for children. In March 2006, and then again in April 2007, the U.S. CPSC announced a recall for Magnetix magnetic building toys, after the powerful magnets were separating from the larger plastic pieces of the building sets.

According to information provided by the CPSC at the time of that recall, swallowing the small magnets from the toys resulted in at least one death, one aspiration and 27 intestinal injuries, which resulted in emergency surgery in all but one of the cases.

Late last month, two Magnetix magnet lawsuits were filed on behalf of children who suffered severe intestinal injuries after swallowing the magnets that came loose from the toy sets.

To reduce the risk of internal injuries from high-powered magnet toys, the American Academy of Pediatrics is offering several safety tips:

  • Keep all small magnets and tiny magnetic cubes away from anyone younger than 14.
  • Regularly check toys and play areas for dislodged or lost magnets.
  • Warn teens not to place magnetic balls near their faces, such as to mimic piercings.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you think a child has swallowed a magnet and do not assume it will pass normally.

The symptoms of a child who has been injured by swallowing a magnet can include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.


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