Children and Magnets: A Dangerous Attraction that Can End up in the Emergency Room

Emergency physicians have seen a spike in the number of children being admitted to the emergency department for swallowing a formerly banned type of magnet. Marketed as stress relief or desk toys, these magnets are about 30 times the strength of an average refrigerator magnet. If someone swallows two or more of these powerful magnets they are at risk of severe internal damage as the magnets can rip through intestines as they make their way through the digestive system, and often requires emergency medical surgery to be removed.

Recently in February of this year, ACEP openly supported legislation against the sale and use of these magnets. The Magnet Injury Prevention Act asks Congress to initiate a ban on certain small, high powered magnets. The bill also asks Congress to require warning information to be made visible for these products to the general public. 

After years off the market, the federal court system lifted a ban imposed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In the three years since the ban was lifted, the reported number of emergency department visits related to these magnets increased nearly six-fold—skyrocketing from 281 in 2016 to 1,666 in 2019.

These products are not only harmful to young children, they also pose a specific threat to teens and pre-teens some of whom use magnets to replicate body piercings. When adolescents try to mimic a nose, tongue, lip, or cheek piercing, they’re at risk of accidently swallowing the magnets. 

Emergency physicians recommend you get rid of these items, and talk with others in your community to increase awareness about the potential dangers of these magnets.

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