May 31, 2014

First With Kids: Attractive facts about magnets

Parents seem to be picking up on news stories about magnets and their possible danger if swallowed by a child.

So let me do my best to attract some attention on this particular topic.

While there are safety standards set for securing magnets in children’s toys and products, those standards don’t affect products designed for adult use that can get into children’s hands, such as small, round refrigerator magnets that might look like candy or small magnetic desk toys. 

What are the dangers of swallowing a magnet? Well, one magnet smaller than a quarter should pass through the digestive system without difficulty, but if more than one is swallowed, it can attract another magnet and obstruct the movement of the intestines, resulting in abdominal pain, vomiting, fever and even perforation of the bowel, which is a surgical emergency.

If you suspect your child has swallowed a magnet, seek emergency attention as soon as possible.

Of course, the best way to deal with magnet ingestion is not to let them happen. And that means keeping small magnets away from children.

It is also important for teens not to use magnetic fake piercings in the nose or mouth, such as the tongue, since these tiny magnets that secure a fake piercing from the inside of the mouth or nose can easily be dislodged and be accidentally swallowed, causing the same digestive system problems that can occur in small children. 

If your child swallows a magnet, the Consumer Product Safety Commission encourages you to report the product that was swallowed even if no injury resulted. Doing so can lead to better regulatory action to prevent dangerous magnets from being ingested and causing serious injuries.

The report information can be found at 

Hopefully, tips like this will stick with you when it comes to making sure you don’t leave loose magnets or magnetic products in reach of your small children. 

Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

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