Fatal attraction: Magnets a ‘huge emerging concern’
Australia is seeing a resurgence in children presenting to hospital emergency departments after swallowing magnets, some requiring surgery, doctors warn.
Children who ingest multiple magnets are at risk of them attracting across the bowel wall, leading to perforations.
Without urgent attention, doctors say children can die. In 2011, a Queensland toddler died after swallowing 12 small magnets.
"Magnets are dangerous," said Queensland Family and Child Commission Chief Executive Cheryl Vardon.
"There's a lot of information and many warnings around button butteries at this time of the year. But magnets, particularly small magnets, are also dangerous. The risk from magnets is a huge emerging concern."
Although Australia has restricted the sale of products containing small, powerful magnets to protect children, they can still be purchased from online stores.
"Fair Trading can't prosecute overseas suppliers," Queensland Children's Hospital emergency physician Ruth Barker said. "This is the problem. Magnets are flooding back onto the market."
Dr Barker said diagnosing when a child had swallowed magnets was difficult. Parents frequently don't see babies or toddlers ingest the magnets and older children are often reluctant to tell adults they have swallowed them.
Sunshine Coast Mum Gemma Rivers said she "stupidly" allowed her daughter Nell to play with some panda fridge magnets when she was 18 months old.
"She was playing with them as she was eating her dinner and they were gone," Ms Rivers recalled.
"There were four of them. I searched everywhere and couldn't find two of them. We absolutely panicked and rang my girlfriend who is an emergency doctor and she was like: 'You need to take her hospital'."
In the end, Nell, who has just turned three, was lucky.
Doctors gave her a laxative and she passed one of the magnets without any problems. Ms Rivers found the other one at the bottom of a fruit and vegetable container months later.
The family no longer keeps magnets on the fridge.
"We did a safety check of the house after this happened," Ms Rivers said. "I learnt a lot about button batteries at the same time, the dangers of swallowing a single button battery, which I wasn't really aware of either. You need to rush them to emergency."
Dr Barker described button batteries as effectively "landmines in our loungerooms".
"A three-volt lithium button battery has a 10-year shelf life and can be ingested by an inquisitive child years after it entered the home.
"Parents think that they would know if their child has ingested a button battery, but the symptoms are very mild and non-specific."
Ms Vardon urged Christmas gift buyers to avoid products containing powerful magnets or button batteries, regardless of the age of the recipient "because you never know when kids might get hold of them".
Originally published as Fatal attraction: Magnets a 'huge emerging concern'