Pediatric surgeons are urging parents not to buy toys with small, often brightly colored magnets as Christmas presents, following a dramatic increase in the number of children requiring surgery after swallowing them.
The Children’s Surery Foundation issued the warning after research showed that the number of children swallowing magnets had increased fivefold in the past five years.
Hemanshoo Thakkar, consultant pediatric surgeon at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London (UK), says: “This year alone, Evelina London has seen 15 new cases of children swallowing magnets and had surgery on seven of them, a few of whom were very unwell.”
Research at four major hospitals in the south east of England found that between 2016-2020, 251 children were admitted after swallowing foreign objects. Of these, 37% were coins (93 boxes), 21% were magnets (52 boxes) and 17% were button batteries (42 boxes).
During this period, there was a fivefold increase in the number of children who swallowed magnets, most of which were brightly colored matchstick-shaped pieces found in children’s building kits. More than 40% of the children required surgery and in half of the cases the children developed complications due to holes in their intestines leading to infections.”
mr. Hemanshoo Thakkar, Consultant Pediatric Surgeon, Evelina London Children’s Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London
Only 2% of children who swallowed button batteries required surgery, but 42% of those who took magnets required either keyhole surgery (laparoscopy) or a more invasive laparotomy, which involved incisions in the abdominal wall to access the intestines.
“If children swallow one magnet, it will likely pass harmlessly through their bodies, but if they swallow two or more magnets, especially at different times, the magnets, which become increasingly powerful, are compressed in the gut, compressing the tissue so that the blood supply is cut off Within hours, significant damage can be caused by making holes in the children’s intestines, making the children unwell and sometimes seriously ill, requiring many complex surgeries to remove the magnets and long recovery periods have in the hospital,” says Mr Thakkar.
Trustee of The Children’s Surgery Foundation, Ms Caroline Pardy, a pediatric surgeon at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, says: “The increasing number of referrals we receive regarding children who have swallowed multiple magnets is very concerning. Fortunately, the majority can be controlled using x-rays to monitor the passage of the magnets out of the gut and avoid surgery, but we have seen some children who have become seriously unwell, especially in young non-verbal children and in whom the ingestion of the magnet has not been recognized. have also spoken to many parents who are very angry that their child has swallowed the magnets at school. Such magnets are sometimes used as ‘sensory’ toys for children with extra needs. In other cases, the magnets have been taken to school by other children I urge all schools to ban such magnets, regardless of the age of the children.
“The majority of children I have had with magnets swallowed are of an age that parents may not feel they are at risk for. They are also usually ashamed, and even when the magnets have been identified on an X-ray, they often will. This reluctance to tell a parent is also dangerous, as the ingestion can go undetected for an extended period of time, carrying a greater potential risk.”
The surgeons say they see children as young as two who have swallowed magnets, as well as teenagers. The average age of children admitted to hospital after swallowing magnets is seven years.
Mr. Thakkar added: “These magnets are being promoted on various websites and on social media. We see some kids who follow influencers on TikTok who use magnets to make fake piercings on their tongue and cheeks and when the kids have copied them they have she accidentally swallowed the magnets.”
Mr Munther Haddad, Chair of The Children’s Surgery Foundation, Chair of the British Association of Pediatric Surgeons (BAPS) and Consultant Pediatric and Neonatal Surgeon at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Our main message, especially In the run up to Christmas, it is important not to buy your children toys with magnets in them. If families already have toy magnets in the house, it is essential that children are closely supervised when they are playing with them and when the children are old enough warn them of the dangers of swallowing magnets.
“There is a legal requirement in the UK, specified in The Magnetic Toys (Safety) Regulations 2008, that all magnetic toys sold must be accompanied by a warning, but most manufacturers do not display this. This means that many parents do not realize the problems magnets can cause until their kids end up in the hospital.”
Jimmy Bui, two years old, from Ramsgate in Kent, had to undergo open surgery in June this year after swallowing three magnets.
His father, Hung Bui, says: “Jimmy swallowed little magnets that were used to stick a note on the fridge. He started to get tired and then stopped eating and going to the toilet, so we took him to our local emergency room.
“We had no idea he had swallowed three of the magnets until we saw it on the X-ray.
The 33-year-old added: “The magnets had stuck together causing a hole in Jimmy’s gut. He was transferred to Evelina London Children’s Hospital for open surgery and spent three weeks recovering.
“We are always very careful but this still happened so I want to warn other parents to be very vigilant. I would urge them not to buy any toys that contain these magnets. We don’t have any of these magnets in our household anymore .”
Pediatric Surgery Foundation