Q: Parents have known for some time that magnets and batteries are to be kept away from small children, because swallowing them can cause serious harm. Now, with newer products sold in stores that pose even greater risks to children, what do parents need to know?
A: Children love to put things in their mouth, whether it is a toddler or infant mouthing things, or an older child just thinking that it would be okay to just hold a small item in their mouth for a few moments. Even adults are guilty of carrying something by putting it in their mouth if their hands are full! It can be hard to predict what will cause that child to swallow it, on purpose or by accident. Aside from choking, there are some items that pose a special risk to people of all ages. Batteries, especially small "button"-style batteries are dangerous when swallowed, because the acid in the battery can corrode, or eat through, the gut lining. The biggest risk is from ages 1-4, but even children as old as 12 could be hurt by accidentally or purposefully swallowing a battery. Look at toys with batteries inside of them, and immediately get rid of any that could be easily removed by a young child.
Q: What about these new products in stores, called "Buckyballs" or "rare earth" magnets?
A: These very small magnetic balls are sold as toys, and pose a special risk when swallowed. Since being widely marketed in the past three years, there have been an estimated 1,700 emergency room visits for ingested rare earth magnets, and in 200 cases, requiring emergency procedures, some major surgery. Their small size make them easily swallowed by young children, and when more than one is ingested, the two magnets can stick together inside of the gut, causing the intestines to block or a hole to form. If teens use them to mimic tongue or lip piercing, it would be very easy to swallow the magnets. Due to the dangers that they pose, many have encouraged these tiny magnets to be taken from the shelves altogether. In the meantime, parents must keep all of these magnets from the reach of all children. If you suspect your child has swallowed a magnet or battery, take them to the emergency room immediately, or call your doctor.