Digestive tract injuries are on the rise as the numbers of cases of children ingesting magnets keep rising. The magnets keep getting smaller and stronger, which adds to the potential medical complications of children swallowing them. These small, high-powered magnets are a part of several products, like desk toys and jewelry kits, in sets of 200.
According to a study published today, in The Journal of Pediatrics, some of the worst injuries that children suffer due to ingesting magnets include stomach, colon, and small bowel perforations. Six children in the study had to have surgery, with some having to have parts of their intestines removed.
Two time periods were mentioned in the study, which followed trends in the swallowing of magnets, all occurring at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), which is the largest children’s hospital in Canada. The study looked at patients at the hospital less than 18 years old, and focused on a 10-year period, which was split into two time periods.
The first time period covered hospital visits due to ingesting magnets from 2002 to 2009, the year when a newer type of small, spherical magnets entered the marketplace. The second time period, a much shorter one, included hospital visits due to swallowing magnets between the years of 2010 to 2012. Between 2002-2009 and 2010-2012, the average size of the magnets which were ingested decreased by 70 percent.
During the two time periods, out of 2,722 patients who ingested foreign bodies, 94 of them were children who had swallowed magnets. Of these 94, 30 had consumed more than one magnet. Also, during the shorter time period between the years of 2010-2012, there was reportedly a ten-fold increase of cases of children swallowing multiple magnets compared to the period between 2002-2009. Six of these cases, all occurring between the years of 2010-2012, necessitated surgery because of sepsis and/or danger that the magnets would soon cause holes to develop in the bowels of the young patients.
When children swallow multiple magnets, the risk of injury and potential need for surgery increases dramatically. That’s because the magnets attract each other, and the added weight can be a factor in resulting in holes torn in the digestive tract or bowel, according to Dr. Matt Strickland, one of the authors of the study.
An additional complicating problem is that children who ingest magnets often don’t exhibit any symptoms immediately. By the time symptoms show up and doctors take x-rays and find out that their young patients have swallowed magnets, tearing and damage of the gastrointestinal tract has often already occurred.
Dr. Strickland mentions in the study that many of the products have labeling requirements, and others have been recalled, or have had safety advisories issued regarding them. Still, Dr. Strickland stresses, “continuing efforts should focus on educating people.” He also noted and was concerned that some of the magnets that were swallowed were from fake nose, tongue, and navel piercings, as well as from what’s often referred to as stress relief desk toys. If you suspect that your child has ingested one or more magnets, you should consult your health care provider as soon as possible, to reduce your child’s potential risk of injury.
Written by: Douglas Cobb