Strong, Small Magnets Are an Ingestion Risk for Children

Most parents know the dangers of children accidentally swallowing small parts that could break off toys or other objects—parts this size create a choking hazard. However, small magnets pose an additional danger of causing severe internal damage if the magnets affect each other once swallowed. Children’s toy makers generally exclude small magnets and small parts to avoid this danger, but they both can be included in accessories marketed towards adults.

Tiny Magnetic Decorations

Rare-earth magnets are powerful, tiny magnets often sold as stress relievers or as a customizable desk decoration. Many manufacturers include warnings on the packaging to keep away from children, however this is often the only protection against the risk of accidental ingestion. Retailers sell these round, shiny magnets in large numbers, which increases the difficulty to determine if any are missing. Proper diagnosis of the issue may be delayed since accidental ingestions are frequently not witnessed by an adult, it may be difficult to figure out if only a few magnets are missing from a large set, and adults are often unaware of the additional dangers that magnets present when swallowed.

A scholarly article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine on injuries related to magnet ingestion determined that “young children are usually at highest risk of ingesting nonfood items as a result of their tendency to explore their environment with their mouths.” Children who do not know better may mistake the magnets as candy or use them as fake mouth piercings for their tongue or lips.

Consequences of Ingestion

Once accidental swallowing of magnets occurs, medical treatment is almost always required to prevent severe internal injuries. According to a recent Washington Post article, the magnets “can pull together inside the intestines, potentially causing life-threatening holes and blockages”. The strength of these tiny magnets can cause long-lasting health effects, and delays in medical treatment worsen the consequences. A toddler was recently saved after having swallowed 31 magnetic balls, which could have caused sepsis or torn apart his internal organs. Unintentional magnet ingestion has caused serious injury and death in incidents without swift medical treatment. The early symptoms of abdominal pain, vomiting, and fever can be confused with the flu or other illnesses not generally caused by ingested objects. If you suspect a loved one has unintentionally swallowed a magnet, act quickly to get them medical attention.

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