As the number of toys with magnets increases, so is the number of serious injuries to children. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is aware of hundreds of complaints that magnets have fallen out of various toys and at least 33 cases where children swallowed loose magnets and required emergency surgery. In addition, a 20-month-old boy from Seattle, Wash. died.
Of the 33 cases, the children ranged in age from 10 months to 11 years, the majority were older than three, and the majority were boys. All of the injuries led to hospital stays, which ranged from three to 19 days. In nearly all cases reviewed by CPSC, children had suffered intestinal perforations.
In addition to the intestinal injuries from swallowing loose magnets, the CPSC is aware of one case of intestinal perforation after a child swallowed magnetic jewelry that was being worn on the child's tongue, two cases of intestinal perforations after children swallowed complete components of building sets containing magnets, one aspiration of a loose magnet, and one perforation of the nasal wall from nose jewelry.
Within the past year, the CPSC has conducted five recalls with more than eight million products containing magnets that could come loose and fall out of the product. In the fall of 2006, the CPSC alerted parents to the emerging hazard of magnets. Even so, children continue to be treated in emergency rooms across the country for complications due to ingesting magnets or toy components with magnets.
If two or more magnets, two or more magnet components, or a magnet and another metal object are swallowed separately, they can attract to one another through intestinal walls. When this happens, parents and physicians may think that the materials will pass through the child. But with magnets this is often not the case. The magnets become trapped in the body and can twist or pinch the intestine, causing holes, blockage and infection in the intestine or blood poisoning. All of which can lead to death.
The CPSC is working with manufacturers, the toy industry and other stakeholders to protect children from the dangers of magnets. New voluntary standards requirements were approved on March 15th. In addition, the voluntary standards group will continue to consider additional requirements during the next year.
In the meantime, the CPSC is working to help those in the medical community better understand the hazard and how to properly diagnose it.
To help prevent serious magnet ingestion injuries the CPSC recommends:
- Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect your child may have swallowed a magnet
- Look for non-specific abdominal symptoms: abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Note that objects in x-rays may appear as a single object that could actually be multiple magnetic pieces separated by trapped intestinal walls
- Keep small magnets and small pieces containing magnets away from young children who might mistakenly or intentionally swallow them
- Look out for loose magnetic pieces – regularly inspect toys and children's play areas for missing or dislodged magnets
CPSC has also prepared a safety alert on the hazard posed by small magnets.