Parents should avoid buying children’s toys with magnets for Christmas, urge pediatric surgeons

Pediatric surgeons are urging parents not to buy toys with small, often colored magnets as Christmas gifts, following a dramatic increase in the number of children requiring surgery after swallowing them.

The Children’s Surery Foundation issued the warning as research has shown a five-fold increase in the number of children swallowing magnets in the past five years.

Mr Hemanshoo Thakkar, consultant pediatric surgeon at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK, said: “This year alone, Evelina London has seen 15 new cases of children swallowing magnets and operated on seven of them, a few of whom were very ill. “

Research conducted at four major hospitals in the south-east of England found that 251 children were admitted after swallowing foreign objects between 2016 and 2020. Of these, 37% were coins (93 cases) , 21% were magnets (52 cases) and 17% were button cell batteries (42 cases).

During this time, the number of children who swallowed magnets quintupled, most of them brightly colored match-shaped pieces found in children’s construction sets. More than 40% of the children needed surgery and in half of the cases the children had complications because their intestines had holes, which resulted in 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 swallowed magnets required either keyhole surgery (laparoscopy) or a more invasive laparotomy, which involves incisions in the wall. abdominal to access the intestine.

“If children swallow a magnet, it will probably pass through their body without danger, but if they swallow two or more magnets, especially at different times, the magnets, which are increasingly very strong, are forced against each other. the other in the intestines, compressing the tissue so that the blood supply is cut off. Significant damage can be done within hours with holes in children’s intestines causing discomfort and sometimes serious illness in children, many requiring complex operations to remove magnets and requiring long recovery periods in hospital », Explains Mr. Thakkar.

Children’s Surgery Foundation administrator Miss Caroline Pardy, pediatric surgeon at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, said: “The growing number of referrals we are receiving regarding children who have swallowed multiple magnets is very disturbing. Fortunately, the majority can be monitored using x-rays to follow the passage of magnets out of the intestine and can avoid surgery, but we have seen a number of children who have become seriously ill, particularly in young children who were nonverbal and in whom the ingestion of magnets was not recognized, also spoke to many parents who are very angry because their child swallowed the magnets while in school. These magnets are sometimes used as “sensory” toys for children with additional needs. In other circumstances, the magnets have been brought to school by other children. s schools to ban such magnets, regardless of the age of the children.

“The majority of the children I have managed with ingested magnets are at an age that parents don’t think they are at risk of. They are also generally embarrassed, and even when the magnets have been identified on an x-ray, they will deny Often this reluctance to tell a parent is also dangerous, as ingestion can go unnoticed for a longer period of time, resulting in a higher potential risk. “

Surgeons say they see children as young as two who have swallowed magnets, but also adolescents. The average age of children admitted to hospital after swallowing magnets is seven.

Mr Thakkar adds, “These magnets are being promoted on several websites and on social media. We see kids following influencers on TikTok who use magnets to create fake piercings on their tongue and cheeks and where kids use them. copied, they accidentally swallowed the magnets. “

Mr Munther Haddad, President of the Children’s Surgery Foundation, President of the British Association of Pediatric Surgeons (BAPS) and Consultant in Pediatric and Neonatal Surgery at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Our main message, especially in preparation for Christmas, is not to buy your children toys that contain magnets. If families already have magnet toys at home, it is essential that children are carefully supervised when playing with them. them and if the children are old enough, please warn them of the dangers of swallowing magnets.

“There is a legal requirement in the UK, specified in Magnetic Toys (Safety) Regulations 2008, so that all magnetic toys sold come with a warning, but most manufacturers do not display them. This means that many parents don’t realize the problems magnets can cause until their children end up in the hospital. “

Two-year-old Jimmy Bui, from Ramsgate in Kent, had to undergo open surgery in June this year after swallowing three magnets.

His father, Hung Bui, says, “Jimmy swallowed tiny magnets used to stick a note on the refrigerator. He started to tire and then stopped eating and using the bathroom, so we took him to our local A&E.

“We had no idea he had swallowed three of the magnets until we saw him on the x-ray.

The 33-year-old added: “The magnets had stuck together causing a hole in Jimmy’s intestine. He was transferred to Evelina London Children’s Hospital for open surgery and spent three weeks there. to re-establish.

“We’re still very careful, but it happened anyway, so I would like to warn other parents to be extra vigilant. I urge them not to buy any toys that contain these magnets. We don’t have any of these. magnets in our homes more. “

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