Did you know magnets can kill kids? I didn’t, either — until my friend told me about her tweenaged son, who had been playing with the magnet ball toys that are so popular right now. He put one inside his mouth and held another against his cheek. With his tongue, he moved the ball around inside his mouth as its mate moved around on his skin. Then he popped another into his mouth, holding the tiny balls against the back of his teeth by the power of their attraction to one on the outside of his lip. It was like a magic trick. Until it wasn’t. That’s when the magnet outside his mouth was pulled inside and the force of that action caused him to accidentally swallow all three.
What me, worry?
Like me, and most of our contemporaries, my friend grew up at a time when parenting was different. Our parents didn’t pay so much attention to their children. Kids fell out of trees and broke arms. We climbed fire escapes when we were locked out, rather than admitting to having lost the key. In summer, we took the bus to the beach. Bikes — not carpool — took us everywhere. Sometimes, we walked over bridges and disappeared into woods. When we were sick, adults gave us aspirin or leftover antibiotics. (Sometimes we had allergic reactions. Sometimes we had to be rushed to the hospital. Not naming names, here.)
Our parents didn’t raise us to worry that the world is dangerous. And these little round magnet balls look innocuous. They’re just magnets, after all. We have them on our fridge! If this had happened to my child, I would probably have just waited for him to poop them out.
Magnet ball toys are no fun.
But somehow my friend had the good sense to realize that swallowing magnets is serious business. She took her son to the emergency room and was transferred to a hospital with a pediatric gastrointestinal specialist, where she realized just how serious the business was.
In fact, these tiny round magnet ball toys can be as much as ten times stronger than refrigerator magnets. If swallowed, they can separate in your gut and try to reunite on opposite sides of the intestinal wall. Their attraction for each other — or another type of metal — can cause the tissue between the two to be pinched off, stopping the blood from circulating. It can also cause the magnets to tear or puncture the intestines. If that happens, bacteria can enter the abdomen and cause a serious infection, which may require surgical removal of part of the intestine itself.
This isn’t the first time.
Magnet toys were first produced in the 1980s but became popular in the early 2000s. Since 2012, people have been complaining to the Consumer Product Safety Commission about them. Today, magnets are the second most dangerous item that a kid can swallow after batteries: In 2014, the CPSC banned magnet toys, but the ban was overturned in 2016. The group estimates that magnets caused nearly 3,000 emergency room visits between 2009 and 2013 — and were responsible for the death of a 19-month-old child.
My friend’s son had a feeding tube shoved down his nose and into his stomach so that they could pump him full of a solution that would help get the magnets out. He had twice daily xrays to follow the magnets as they progressed through his intestines. Finally, he had an endoscopy so the doctors could remove the magnets without breaking their connection. They had a surgery team waiting to jump in if that happened. Luckily, it didn’t. He’s fine.
Today, kids are responding to a TikTok challenge in which they simulate a tongue piercing with the same kind of ball magnets that threatened this boy’s life. Parents, please talk to your children and tell your friends. Share this post and/or the links I’ve included. If your child accidentally swallows a magnet, go straight to the hospital — and make sure your people know they should do the same. We need to do something about this, so more kids don’t get hurt.
Magnet ball toys are no joke.
Photo: Olhar Digital