Pediatricians have been aware of the dangers associated with ingesting magnets for many years. For this reason, the AAP was successful in advocating for new Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards for children’s products and toys that contain magnets in 2008. These new standards help keep children safe by ensuring that magnets in children’s products will not fall out of or become unattached from children’s products, or otherwise become available for mouthing or swallowing among young children.
Unfortunately, magnet safety standards only apply to children’s products and do not extend to products that are specifically designed for adults or other products that include loose magnets. The recent reported injuries involve products that consist of small, round magnets marketed as “stress relief” desk toys for adults. Despite continued serious injuries among children and adolescents, these products remain on store shelves. These magnets are generally sold in sets of 100 or more, making it difficult for parents to recognize if a few magnets have gone missing. Although these products are labeled and designed for adults, they can easily find their way into the hands and mouths of children.
Recent anecdotal reports have shown that magnet ingestions have led to dozens of surgeries, bowel perforations or fistulas, endoscopies, bowel resections, and other serious gastrointestinal injuries as a result of young children swallowing magnets and adolescents unintentionally swallowing them after using magnets as a fake tongue piercing. Ingested magnets can stick together and trap and compress portions of the bowel wall between them, potentially leading to perforation, ischemia, sepsis, and bowel obstructions. Because of the severe health consequences of ingesting these dangerous products it is necessary to educate children, adolescents, and their parents about the imperative to keep small magnets out of hands and mouths.
What can pediatricians do?
Talk to patients about magnet safety:
Magnet ingestions pose a serious threat to the health of children and adolescents. As part of regular anticipatory guidance discussions regarding safe toys and other household products with patients and their parents, pediatricians can discuss the serious health impacts of ingesting magnets.
Pediatricians can instruct parents to keep these products away from young children who might swallow them. In addition, adolescents should be informed of the serious dangers associated with using magnets to mimic piercings in their mouths, ears or noses.
Finally, parents should be encouraged to closely monitor loose magnets and other magnetic products and contact a pediatrician immediately if they suspect a magnet has been swallowed or inhaled.
Know the symptoms of magnet ingestion:
Children who have ingested magnets may present to the pediatrician’s office or emergency department with symptoms of abdominal pain, vomiting, and fever. Because these symptoms are common in children and not usually caused by ingested objects, the true cause may not be suspected initially. Delay of treatment may lead to increased severity of consequences, so pediatricians should be mindful of this possible etiology and ask questions to ascertain whether the child may have had access to products with powerful magnets.
Report injuries and incidences of magnet ingestions to the CPSC:
The CPSC, the federal agency tasked with ensuring children’s toys and other consumer products are safe, has an online database for medical professionals, parents, and the general public to report dangerous products and injuries related to consumer products directly to the agency. Pediatricians, parents, and others who care for children can visit SaferProducts.gov to report injuries related to magnet ingestions or other products.
The site requests, but does not require, the injured victim’s information. The CPSC must publicly disclose accident or investigation reports, but does not include identifying information for any injured individual or the person reporting the incident. If further information is necessary, the CPSC will contact the reporting individual directly, but such contact information is not shared with others.
Stronger regulatory action to remove dangerous magnets and magnetic products from the marketplace may depend on the CPSC receiving reports of injuries associated with these products. Pediatricians who care for children with magnet-related injuries are encouraged to report the incidents to the CPSC.
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