Experts Warn of Magnet Dangers in Children

PHOTO: X-ray of magnets lodged in digestive tract
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Small but powerful magnets are becoming an increasing safety risk in children, and now, a new report published in the Lancet discusses two more cases in which U.K. children became ill after ingesting the pieces.

Dr. Anil Thomas George of Queen's Medical Centre at Nottingham University Hospitals in the U.K. describes the "widespread availability" of cheap magnetic toys that contain the parts that become easily detached and consumed by children.

"While we understand that it may be impossible to prevent small children from occasionally swallowing objects, we would highlight to parents the potential harm that could arise from multiple magnet ingestion," George said in a statement. "We would advise parents to be more vigilant and take extra care when giving their children toys that may contain magnets small enough to swallow.

"We would also welcome an increased awareness of this problem among toy manufacturers, who have a responsibility to alert parents to the presence of magnets in their products," he continued.

Incidents of children and teenagers accidentally ingesting high-powered magnets have been on the rise in recent years, Kim Dulic, a spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, told ABCNews.com in March. And most of the magnets are so small that it's difficult to notice if one or two go missing in a sofa or on the floor.

"The popularity of these products are growing, and it's resulting in an increasing amount of incidents," said Dulic.

One incident of ingesting magnets was reported in 2009, seven in 2010 and 14 through October 2011 in the U.S. The ages of these cases ranged from 18 months to 15 years old, and 11 required surgical removal of the magnets.

In March, ABCNews.com reported that a 3-year-old Oregon girl who consumed 37 Buckyball earth magnets, which punched holes in her stomach and intestines. She, along with most people who consume the magnets, experienced flu-like symptoms within a couple days of ingesting magnets that have not passed through the digestive system.

The availability of toys with small magnetic elements has increased, George wrote in the report. And, since magnetic tongue rings and lip piercings in which two high-powered magnets sit on both sides of the lip or tongue have also become more popular in recent years, teenagers are also at risk, the CPSC warns.

Button-size batteries, found in remote controls, toys, calculators and bathroom scales, have also led to accidental ingestions.

"The difference between magnets and these batteries is that you can see symptoms within two hours of swallowing them," said Dulic. "It burns the esophagus and it can start soon after."

And, while the CPSC created new regulations in 2008 for children's products that contain magnets, the rules do not extend to adult products, which are also known to contain the pieces.

"We've found that a lot of teens are getting these at school, so parents should be sure to notify their teens as to what's happening with these products," said Dulic. "They can just be really dangerous."

"We believe that improvement in public awareness about this risk will be key in preventing such incidents," said George.

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