In the last few years, the number of toys with small magnets have increased significantly. Some very creative and imaginative construction toys and building sets have been made possible using these magnets. The magnets have made it easy for smaller children to handle and join various pieces together.
However, these small magnets can be very dangerous if they come loose from the toy and are swallowed by the child. When multiple magnets are swallowed the danger becomes very high. These small magnets are very powerful "rare earth" magnets and start moving towards each other inside the child's intestines. This can result in the intestines being twisted, holes and blockages being created etc., leading to severe infection and significant danger to the child's life.
Safety agencies in the US, Canada, and Europe have reported dozens of cases where children swallowing magnets needed surgery with one reported death in the US. In the case of one child, the magnets had caused 11 holes in his intestines and doctors saved his life by removing six inches of intestine. Dozens of other children were hospitalised and required surgery.
The magnets used in these toys are "rare earth" magnets. These are really strong and powerful and not like the weak magnets we are all used to seeing in refrigerator magnets. They are usually enclosed in plastic or rubber. But they exert such a powerful attractiveness to each other that they strain the covering. Moreover, hot weather conditions in India also put additional stress on the plastic or rubber covering. The covering tends to crack, and then the magnet slips out. Smaller children can swallow these magnets resulting in significant danger to their lives. And in some cases even older children have swallowed these magnets.
Nearly 10 million magnetic toys have been recalled by manufacturers due to the dangers posed by these toys. Pictures of some of the recalled toys are given below (Courtesy: US CPSC)
Despite these recalls, these toys continue to be sold in the market with additional warning labels. Parents should exercise great caution when buying these toys.
- Buy from a reliable manufacturer
- Check on the manufacturer's website if the toy has been recalled
- Don't give the toy to younger children. Most manufacturers suggest that children 3 or older can play with them. You may want to set the age limit higher.
- Keep checking the toy to ensure that none of the coverings are cracking. Do this more often when a younger child is around
- If you think your child has swallowed a magnet, take them to a doctor immediately
- If your child complains of stomach pains, vomiting etc., mention to your doctor the possibility of the child having ingested magnets
1. US Consumer Product Safety Commission warning
2. Health Canada report
3. European Union release