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Parents warned not to let children swallow magnets

Two recent cases in the UK have led to a letter of warning being published in the medical journal The Lancet.

File photo
File photo
Image: Dan Grossi/AP/Press Association Images

PARENTS ARE BEING warned to take extra care that their children do not swallow small magnets from toys after two recent cases where children required surgery to remove such objects.

Magnets were found lodged in the digestive systems of two young children in the UK in the last 18 months with both requiring surgery according to a letter published in the medical journal The Lancet.

In one case an 18-month-old child swallowed 10 small magnetic spheres and in the second case an eight-year-old swallowed two 2 centimetre long magnetic strips.

In both cases surgery was required after magnets were found lodged in the children’s digestive system.

While single small objects can pass through the digestive systems of young children without any problems, such as illness or internal damage, when several magnet elements are ingested it can lead to more severe problems such as fistulas.

Fistulas develop when soft internal tissue is trapped between the magnets and an abnormal connection is formed between the soft tissue inside the body.

This can lead to serious illness which may not be immediately noticeable to parents whose children will not experience any pain or discomfort initially.

One of the co-authors of the letter, Dr Anil Thomas George from Queen’s Medical Centre at Nottingham University Hospital, said: “We are particularly concerned about the widespread availability of cheap magnetic toys where the magnetic parts could become easily detached.

“Parents should be warned of the risk of magnet ingestion, particularly in small children.  We believe that improvement in public awareness about this risk will be key in preventing such incidents”.

The letter further warns that as magnetic toys become increasingly popular and more cheap, there is an increased chance that the problem of accidental ingestion of magnetic elements will become more common.

Dr George added: “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.”

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Hugh O'Connell

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