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Doctors warn that rare-earth magnets can cause serious harm if swallowed

Rare earth magnets
Posted at 12:57 PM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 12:57:37-05

A popular holiday gift is landing children of all ages in emergency rooms across the country.

Rare-earth magnets are strong magnets that can kill if swallowed.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission restricted magnet sizes back in 2012. However, a federal court decision in 2016 vacated that decision.

Since then, the rate of ingestion has sharply increased.

"I can see the appeal. I just think that parents need to go into this with open eyes and understand that despite good intentions, these are toys that are really potentially very harmful," said Dr. Jackie Saito at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Saito says once the magnets are swallowed, they try to connect — no matter where they are in the digestive system. With the strength of the magnets, they will eventually connect and can burrow holes in the intestines.

"What can happen is that there can be leakage of bacteria, so that's what contributes to abdominal pain and fever. But more importantly, there's a connection that's not supposed to be there and so that can cause a blockage in the intestine has the potential to make children quite ill," Saito said. "Fortunately, the children that we've seen at our hospital have eventually done OK, albeit with a major operation and in some cases, a couple of major operations."

The American Academy of Pediatrics says parents should keep the magnets in a locked container out of the reach of children.

Doctors say the patient needs to go to the emergency room immediately if the magnets are swallowed.