The term “opposites attract” is usually reserved for dating websites or corny Hallmark cards, but right now I’m going to apply it to something you probably don’t think about on a regular basis:
More specifically, neodymium magnets, or rare earth magnets.
Sometimes these are sold in toys (think Magnatiles, etc) but were more often sold as desk toys or stress relievers for adults. While the magnets within children’s blocks are safely encased and tightly regulated by the CPSC, the magnets marketed for adults only are easily ingested by children. They are small, pretty, and apparently very tasty looking. When a child (or pet!) ingests 2 or more, they attract each other within the digestive tract. This can result in an obstruction, a perforated bowel, and necrosis of the tissue which can lead to sepsis and death. Picture two magnets being in opposite ends of the intestine. They come together with the intestine pinched in between. Either the intestine tears (a perforation) and the contents seep into the abdominal cavity, or the pinched tissue is deprived of blood flow and becomes necrotic (dies). Either can result in sepsis, which is an infection within the blood stream that can lead to multiple organ failure and death.
The scary thing about these magnets is if your child doesn’t tell you they ate them, you won’t know until they start showing symptoms. The initial symptoms are abdominal pain and vomiting and basically mimic a common stomach virus. Parents and pediatricians just give symptom support and assume it will subside in a few days. When the symptoms instead intensify , warranting an x-ray, the damage is already done.
Most of the desk toys marketed for adults have since been recalled and removed from the market, such as BuckyBalls. However millions still lurk in desk drawers and offices. Make sure to remove them immediately and place them out of reach (or better yet, get rid of them!) if you do have them in your house. Magnetic toys are becoming more prevalent on store shelves with the trendy rising of STEM education aspects. Tegu blocks, Magna-Tiles, Magformers, etc are all toys that have magnets safely encased in plastic or wood. Remember to check the integrity of these toys regularly, and supervise when your children are playing with them. Wood is easily chewed by family pets, so keep them out of reach and immediately search the area for magnets if a block is damaged. These toys are amazingly fun, just make sure to play safely!
If you think your child may have ingested a magnet, alert your pediatrician immediately or go to the ER. Also note that on an x-ray, multiple magnets can appear as only one when they’ve attached to each other. The damage caused can be irreversible and as evidenced by several recent stories I’ve read on parenting message boards- life changing.
Kids are crazy and seem to be able to hurt themselves with almost anything. This is truth, and with all these blog posts about the things that can pick off your kid, it seems overwhelming and that you may as well put your kid in a bubble. I get this, my own kids are 5 and 2. And if it makes you feel any better, I’m currently watching them beat each other with sticks through the kitchen window. Someone may lose an eye. But so far, no one has recalled sticks so I’m gonna let it slide. However, knowledge is power. Even as a nurse myself, I never would have thought of magnets as anything other than a choking hazard. Buckyballs are small enough to pass, so that’s what I would be waiting for. Arming yourself with knowledge and being proactive is the best thing you can do. I will be forever grateful that I wasn’t one of the parents that was given this knowledge by a doctor while my child was critically ill. I wish every parent could be spared that.