High-powered magnets first began appearing in children’s toys in the early 2000s. While our pediatricians East Portland know these types of toys can be fun and educational, it’s important to understand the danger they pose, especially to young children. Here’s what you need to know about the dangers of high-powered magnets and how to keep your kids safe from them.
Why high-magnetic toys are so dangerous
Also known as rare-earth magnets, high-powered magnets are a lot stronger than other types of magnets. In fact, these types of magnets are so powerful, they’re used in technology like MRI machines and wind turbines as well as everyday items such as computer hard disk drives and vacuum cleaners.
The most dangerous of these products to children are ones with small, loose balls or sets of small magnetic balls or cubes, usually sold as a set of 100 or more. These sets, which can be arranged or sculpted into various shapes, are marketed to both kids and adults as artistic and fun.
When children swallow two or more magnets, the magnets can can attach to each other from different areas of the intestinal tract. This can cause intestinal obstruction, serious injury to the intestinal wall to the to point of rupture, and death.
Safety Standards Then and Now
In 2014, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the federal agency that ensures children’s toys and other consumer products are safe, banned high-powered magnets after dozens of kids were seriously injured due to swallowing them. When the ban was overturned in 2016 by the U.S. Court of Appeals, we saw another sharp increase of ingestion, injuries, and hospitalizations. The CPSC estimates 26,600 magnet ingestions were treated in ERs around the country from 2010 through 2021.
Then, in October 2022, a new safety standard went into effect for products that have multiple loose high-powered magnets or high-powered magnets that can be separated. Now the magnets in these products must be too large for children to swallow or have weaker magnetic fields to help reduce the risk of internal injuries if ingested.
Tips for Protecting Children
The best way to protect your children from high-powered magnets is to not have any at all. (This is the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for families.) Other tips for protecting your kids include:
- Keeping small or loose magnets away from young children, preferably in a locked container stored in a high or hidden spot.
- Watching young children closely when they are around anyone using magnets. Also, making sure all magnets are accounted for and putting them away quickly and safely.
- Regularly inspecting any toys with magnets for cracks or a loose magnet.
- Talking to your older children and teens about the risks of high-powered magnets, especially when used as fake magnetic piercings in their mouths and noses.
What to do if Your Child Swallows a Magnet
Fever, vomiting, and abdominal pain are the most common symptoms in children that have ingested magnets. If you believe your kid has swallowed a magnet, contact your pediatrician or your closest emergency department immediately. Ingesting a magnet can be life-threatening and cause serious damage to your child’s digestive system. This is especially true if more than one high-powered magnet is swallowed because they can pull together inside your child with enough force to cause serious damage to their stomach, intestines, and digestive tract.
You can also help protect other children by reporting your child’s injury to the CPSC at SaferProducts.gov.
We’re Here to Help
East Portland Pediatric Clinic, pediatrician East Portland, is open to serve you. You can reach our office at 503-255-3544. If you need to reach us after hours with any urgent questions or need medical advice, call 503-255-3544 and press 5 or stay on the line to be transferred to our answering service. They will take your information and page the doctor on-call.