Magnets: The Real Reason for Mattel's Recall

The risk posed by magnets -- which kids may ingest after they break loose from toys -- was a major reason why Mattel recalled nine million toys on Tuesday.

Magnetic toys recalled by the toy giant include 44 Polly Pocket toys, 11 Doggie Day Care toys, four Batman toys, a One Piece toy, and the accessories of two Barbie toys, according to a company press release issued Tuesday.

"Very powerful magnets, when more than one is swallowed, may stick to each other and cause more severe problems with the intestines," said Dr. Robert J. Geller, associate professor of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and director of the Georgia Poison Center.

"If the child has swallowed one or more magnets, parents should observe [the child] for abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, abdominal distention or blood in stools; if any are observed, the child's physician should be consulted or emergency help sought, depending on the severity of the illness."

This is not the first time that magnet problems have surfaced during a toy recall. Last year, a 2-year-old Washington boy died after he swallowed pieces of a Magnetix set; the magnets twisted his small intestine and created a fatal blockage.

Other toys besides those with magnets can be dangerous or deadly for little ones. The American Academy of Pediatrics puts out a list of items that it recommends parents keep away from infants and children due to worries about the risk of choking. Among the dangerous objects are marbles, coins, batteries (especially small watch batteries) pens and caps, toy cars with removable rubber wheels, and small balls.

Even uninflated balloons have been shown to pose a hazard, leading to between seven and 10 child deaths each year.

Going Overboard With Toy-Phobia?

Despite the recent news about dangerous toys, experts said that most toys in good condition are safe for kids.

Dr. John Benitez, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y., recommends that parents be cognizant about where toys come from.

"Be aware of what you purchase and gifts received by the child," he said. "Check the Consumer Products Safety Commission Web site for any product alerts, recalls or other notices."

Emory University's Geller advises parents to take heed of the age recommendations given by toy manufacturers. He adds that parents should watch their children to make certain younger siblings are not playing with their older counterparts' toys, which may include more small parts.

"Parents should supervise their children appropriately to be sure that the child is not chewing on toys not intended to be put in the mouth," he said. "Toys that appear to be poorly made, or that are starting to fall apart, should be avoided and taken away from the child."