Your baby swallowed a magnet -- what should you do?

by Julie Snyder

Swallowing MagnetOn April 2, 1-year-old Braylon Jordan began vomiting. When the illness continued into the next day, his parents took him to doctor. An x-ray revealed that he had swallowed eight magnetic beads from an adult desk toy.

Braylon was rushed to the hospital. He has had six surgeries. The magnets were attracted to one another, formed a clump and bored a hole through his intestines. Dr. Adam Noel, of Children's Hospital in New Orleans, estimates that 90 percent of his intestines have been lost.

Recently, the toddler took his first steps. He's improving, but has a long road of recovery and additional surgeries ahead.

In 2009 there was just one case reported. By 2010 there were seven, and in 2011, there were 14 cases. Pediatric gastroenterology specialists who responded to an informal NASPGHAN survey highlighted the problem.

It's not just limited to babies. A 9-year-old was sucking on two magnetic beads in her mouth at school and swallowed them.

They reported treating more than 80 children who had ingested magnets. Most of the patients required endoscopy to remove them or surgery to repair damage to the bowels.

Neodymium or rare earth magnets

Rare earth magnets are at least five to 10 times stronger than traditional magnets. While used in industrial products, they're also marketed as desk toys or stress relievers for adults. It's not easy to pull them apart. You can feel the resistance.

Usually the small objects a child swallows can pass through their digestive tract without causing any damage. Because of their formidable attractive forces, neodymium magnets pose a risk to kids if swallowed.

Even if they're in different parts of your child's digestive system, they can find each other and clump together. The magnets can cause two pieces of bowel to stick together, resulting in a perforation or an obstruction.

What should you do if you think your baby swallowed a magnet or notice some are missing?

Get immediate treatment!

Because the magnets are small, your child may have mild symptoms or none. Dr. Adam Noel of children's Hospital in New Orleans says a single magnet will likely pass through without causing harm.

However, if two or more have been swallowed (or a magnet and another piece of metal), there could be serious complications.

Seek immediate medical attention. If your child is not seen within the first 12 hours, complications are more common. Your doctor will:

✓ See how many magnets have been swallows by x-raying from different angles. Magnets can hide behind each other in a single view.
✓ Attempt to remove the magnets using an endoscope.
✓ Surgery may be needed if the magnets have passed out of the stomach or it complication occur.

Look for symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If your child has these signs and you think they might have swallowed a magnet, see your doctor immediately or go to ER.

Prevention tips

✓ Rethink the risk/benefit of neodymium magnetic desk toys. The risk to a child is high. Do you really need that toy? Does your benefit outweigh that risk?
✓ If you do have adult stress-relief toys, keep small magnets and small pieces containing magnet away from small children.
✓ Look out for loose magnet pieces. Inspect the toys regularly and check the children's play area for missing or dislodged magnets.

In September 2012, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission took action to ban the sale of neodymium magnets as toys. The biggest company selling the toys is resisting.

What do you think? Should they be banned?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.