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High-powered magnets

Study: 46% of children’s hospital patients who ingested magnets needed endoscopy and/or surgery

February 3, 2022

More than half of children’s hospital patients who had ingested magnets needed to be admitted, and about 10% had potentially life-threatening injuries, according to a new study.

“In aggregate, these data suggest that high-powered magnets are among the most dangerous consumer products available today,” authors wrote in “High-Powered Magnet Exposures in Children: A Multi-Center Cohort Study” (Middelberg LK, et al. Pediatrics. Feb. 3, 2022).

High-powered magnet sets typically include several hundred tiny balls or cubes. Because of their strength, if a child swallows two or more, they can attract each other within the body, causing serious damage to internal organs that could be fatal.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) finalized a rule in 2014 that effectively removed these magnets from the market, but a court decision in 2016 allowed them to return.

A research collaborative made up of U.S. children’s hospitals set out to look at the health impact on children exposed to these magnets after they returned to the market.

They analyzed data on 596 patients with high-powered magnet exposures at 25 children’s hospitals from 2017-’19.

Nearly all the patients in the study had ingested the magnets, and 95% of the patients were under 14 years old despite these magnet sets being marketed to people above that age. The mean age was just under 8 years, and 61% were male.

About 10% of the children had a life-threatening morbidity such as perforation, fistula formation or bowel obstruction, according to the study. Children most likely to have one of these injuries were under 2 years or had a developmental delay. Injuries were seen only in children who had ingested more than one magnet.

About 46% of patients required an endoscopy, surgery or both, and 56% required hospitalization, researchers found. No deaths were reported in the study group.

Home and school were common locations for magnet exposures.

“This is consistent with previously published data showing school environments as a frequent location of injury … outside children’s homes, and it indicates parental education is not enough to prevent injuries,” authors wrote.

For years, the AAP has been warning families about the dangers of high-powered magnets and urging lawmakers to take action. The AAP recommends families do not keep high-powered magnet sets in their home. Those who do have them should keep them in a locked container where children can’t get to them. Parents who suspect their child swallowed a magnet should seek immediate medical attention.

The CPSC also has continued to warn families and issue recalls, including a mandatory recall last year of 10 million Zen and Neoballs magnets. It has issued violation notices to companies that market the magnets to children and worked with online retail platforms to remove the products.

“The sad truth is we’re playing whack-a-mole with these dangerous products, and each one we miss could have grave consequences for young children and teens,” then-Acting CPSC Chairman Robert Adler said in an August 2021 statement about the recall. “But until we can get these products off the market entirely, we just have to be vigilant.”



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