Kids Swallowing Multiple Magnets, Related Injury Reports, on the Rise

children_magnet_swallowingMagnets and children have long been a dangerous combination with a growing number of kids ending up in emergency rooms (ER) after swallowing two or more of the dangerous products.

New data reveals a sharp rise in ER visits associated with children swallowing magnets, according to Reuters Health. “We expected the numbers would be increasing, but we were surprised by how dramatic the rise has been,” lead author Dr. Jonathan Silverman of the pediatrics department at the University of Washington in Seattle, said. Silverman told Reuters Health, by email, that he noticed an increase in these visits in his hospital and began hearing about similar situations in other hospitals.

Researchers, trying to determine if the trend was more widespread, looked at U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) data on children and teens ingesting magnetic objects. The study, explained Reuters Health, involved a U.S. hospital sub-set from 2001 through 2011. The researchers discovered that yearly incidents increased from one child in 200,000 to six in 200,000 in 2010.

For the most part, magnets were inserted in either the mouth or nose and the number of ER visits involving swallowing magnets increased while visits involving magnets being inserted in the nose dropped during the study period. Silverman told Reuters Health that the findings were interesting and unexpected.

The average age for children swallowing magnets was five years of age; for magnets in the nose, 10 years of age. The data did not include the types of magnets ingested; however, Silverman told Reuters Health that small, strong magnets are being seen, more-and-more, in consumer products, noting that other evidence points to increases tied to powerful magnets sold in desktop toy sets. “Although not conclusive, this study and several others suggest that the rise in magnet ingestions we found in our study may be due to the rising popularity and availability of these desktop magnet sets,” called Buckyballs, he said.

The toys are typically sold in sets of 100 or more and are composed of a rare-earth mineral known as neodymium, which is at least 15 times more powerful than regular magnets. When more than one neodymium magnet is ingested, they attract to one another within the digestive tract. When swallowed, these magnets can link inside the intestines and clamp onto bodily tissue causing intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis, and death; internal damage can pose serious lifelong health effects. According to the CPSC previously, the tiny, shiny nature of the product has a strong appeal to children and poses a serious potential for high-severity injuries.

A study by the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, revealed that over 200 cases of magnet-ingestion were reported in 2012, alone. Some 80 percent, between 2008 and 2012, required endoscopy or surgery; some patients required sections of their bowels to be removed. The Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) previously pointed out that there were some 1,700 emergency room (ER) visits related to swallowing the magnetic toys between 2009 and 2011. Also, Health Canada issued a warning regarding the danger associated with high-powered magnet toys, calling them “a recognized health hazard to children of all ages” that should be kept away from children.

The CPSC sued Buckyball maker, Maxfield & Oberton Holdings LLC in 2012, calling for the firm to cease sales and issue a recall. Other sellers agreed to stop selling Buckyballs and other similar products and Maxfield & Oberton did stop manufacture; however, the toys can still be found in some locations, Reuters Health reported.

“The greatest danger is from swallowing multiple magnets or a single magnet along with other metal objects,” Silverman said. “Especially when high-powered magnets are ingested, there is a serious risk that they may tear holes in the intestine as they attract together across loops of bowel,” he said, according to Reuters Health.

Silverman and colleagues learned that 16 percent of children seen in the ER after ingesting multiple magnets were admitted, compared to just over 2 percent who ingested a single magnet, according to Reuters Health. More than 90 percent of the multiple magnet ingestions took place from 2007 on, according to study results published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. “I find the results from this study very alarming,” said Dr. Shruti Jayachandra of the department of otolaryngology at Nepean Hospital in Sydney, Australia. “Young children particularly between the ages of 1-3 years, explore their environment by putting objects into their ears, noses and especially their mouths,” Jayachandra, who was not involved in this research, told Reuters Health in an email.

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