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Beware of Powerful Magnets in Children's Toys

Parents and child caregivers should be aware that unexplained vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever can sometimes be caused by ingestion of small, high powered magnets. Canadian pediatricians discuss this issue at length in an early 2013 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Exceptionally strong, permanent magnets, called "rare-earth magnets," were created in the 70s and 80s with alloys of rare earth elements - such magnets produce substantially stronger magnetic fields than alnico or ferrite-type magnets. Rare-earth magnets are widely used in children's construction sets, desk toys, and some types of jewelry.

Accidental ingestion of a single magnet doesn't typically cause health problems - single magnets are eventually eliminated by the natural contractile waves of the walls of the gastrointestinal tract.

The danger is in swallowing more than one magnet, especially at different times, as these high-powered magnets can attract each other through the overlapping loops of the GI tract; once stuck together, these connections can lead to necrosis (tissue death) and even perforations, paving the way for internal bleeding and infection.

Small, high powered magnets are banned for use in children's toys and jewelry in New Zealand and Australia. But they're still around in products already on the market and in other consumer items that utilize rare-earth magnets. And they continue to be used in products that are sold in all other major countries.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that between 1993 and 2007, there were 328 cases of children who were admitted to emergency rooms because of magnet-related illnesses - more than half of these cases involved swallowing of magnets.

Though modern surgical techniques allow physicians to remove multiple lodged magnets, Canadian pediatricians recommend routinely educating parents and child caregivers on potential dangers.

Please consider encouraging family and friends who have children to be keenly aware of this health hazard.


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