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Upstate pediatricians warn about magnet ingestion

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Pediatricians at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital are joining their colleagues across the nation in alerting the public to an emergent health issue--magnet ingestion among children and adolescents. Ingested magnets can stick together and trap and compress portions of the bowel wall between them, potentially leading to perforation, ischemia, sepsis, and bowel obstructions.

According to Manoochehr Karjoo, M.D., director of pediatric gastroenterology at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, magnets are among the most dangerous objects to be swallowed by children. Karjoo will report on this health concern at the annual meeting of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, to be held Oct. 18 to 21 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Magnet ingestion can lead to serious, long-lasting damage or possibly death,” said Karjoo. “It is important for parents and caregivers of young children, especially as we near the holiday gift-giving season, to be made aware of the unique risks that these magnets pose if ingested.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), anecdotal reports across the nation have shown that magnet ingestions have led to dozens of surgeries, bowel perforations or fistulas, endoscopies, bowel resections, and other serious gastrointestinal injuries.

Reported injuries, according to the AAP, involve products that consist of small, round magnets marketed as “stress relief” desk toys for adults. These magnets are generally sold in sets of 100 or more, making it difficult for parents to recognize if a few magnets have gone missing. Although these products are labeled and designed for adults, they can easily find their way into the hands and mouths of children.

Pediatricians have been aware of the dangers associated with ingesting magnets for many years. For this reason, the AAP was successful in advocating for new Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards for children’s products and toys that contain magnets in 2008. These new standards help keep children safe by ensuring that magnets in children’s products will not fall out of or become unattached from children’s products, or otherwise become available for mouthing or swallowing among young children.

Unfortunately, these magnet safety standards only apply to children’s products and do not extend to products that are specifically designed for adults or other products that include loose magnets.

“We are encouraging parents and caregivers to take steps to prevent magnet ingestions from occurring in children and adolescents,” said Karjoo. “Parents and caregivers should keep these products away from young children who might swallow them. Also, they should inform older children of the serious dangers associated with using magnets to mimic piercings in their mouths, ears or noses. And, most importantly, they should closely monitor loose magnets and other magnetic products and contact their pediatrician immediately if they suspect a magnet has been swallowed or inhaled.”