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Dangerous Play: More Kids Ingesting Magnets, Rushed To ER

Years ago, a relaxing family vacation with friends in the Berkshires was cut short by a medical emergency involving the host’s 6-year-old son and a couple of powerful magnets.  The problem? The kid blithely placed a magnet in each nostril and couldn’t remove them. A bloody nose, forceps and a frantic trip to the local emergency room followed.

The child, it turns out, is far from unique.

According to a new study, the number of children ingesting magnets, or stuffing them up their nasal passages (possibly a thwarted attempt to emulate nose-piercing) has soared: cases, amazingly, quintupled between 2002 and 2011. Not only that, this spike in magnet-related accidents is leading to more serious injuries that are more likely to involve emergency surgery, according to the report, just published online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Researchers propose two possible theories driving the rapid rise in cases:

1. Smaller, stronger magnets have become more widely available (and not only in kids’ toys; it’s also those addictive Buckyballs, marketed for grownups).
2. Powerful and cool-looking magnets are being used, mostly by older children to “imitate nose, tongue, lip, or cheek piercings,” the study says.

To find out more, I contacted one of the study authors, Dr. Julie C. Brown, with the department of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. Here, lightly edited is her very thorough response via email:

jar (away for a while)/flickr

jar(away for a while)/flickr

Q: What might be driving the increase in these pediatric magnet emergencies?

A: Small, powerful magnets are increasingly ubiquitous, in numerous household objects. Rare earth magnets have only been widely available and affordable since a little after 2000, and have had increasing use since. Many companies marketed rod and ball construction sets to children around 2005, and there were a number of ingestions related to a flawed Magnetix product around that time, including a Kirkland boy who died in 2005. There have been other flawed toys around that time as well. In recent years, however, it appears that the increase is due more to products not marketed as toys. They are sold with metallic bulletin boards, as fridge magnets, as jewelry, as novelty items. Continue reading