Small magnets can pose big risk

Small magnets can pose big risk »Play Video
The Consumer Product Safety Commission published this undated x-ray as an example of what can happen when a child swallows several small magnets. (Photo: CPSC)

PORTLAND, Ore. – A young Oregon girl was rushed into emergency surgery recently after swallowing 37 tiny magnets.

She’s now recovering and doctors are using the incident to remind parents of the danger small magnets pose to children.

The problem is that two or more magnets can stick together inside the human body, just like the trick where you put a magnet on either side of your palm and they stay.

If magnets stick together and pinch part of your digestive track, they can cause serious or even fatal damage.

The magnets can block blood flow or even puncture holes in your organs.

Pediatricians say the symptoms can be vague, but include significant abdominal pain and vomiting.

“It the family doesn’t recognize right up front, they don’t see the child with the magnets and think ‘this could have happened,’ then the longer the magnets are in there the more potentially dire the consequences could be in terms of blood flow or the risk for perforation,” said Dr. Ben Hoffman at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Hoffman said he’s never before seen a case where a child swallowed 37 magnets.

Magnets can also confuse doctors because they might look like a single object on an x-ray. For example, in this latest case the magnets were small balls that formed a chain and looked like a bracelet.

Doctors say they are seeing more cases like this as tiny, strong magnets grow in popularity as gifts and tchotchkes.

Products such as Buckyballs are geared towards adults and include warnings to not swallow them and keep them away from children.

In fact, Buckyballs prominently displayed a statement on its website saying, “Buckyballs was saddened to learn that a 3-year-old girl in Oregon had swallowed high-powered magnets but we are relieved that she is expected to make a full recovery. This unfortunate incident underscores the fact that Buckyballs and Buckycubes are for adults. They are not toys and are not intended for children.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that children as young as 18 months and as old has 15 years have swallowed magnets.