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Magnets in Kids' Toys Pose Broad Dangers

Swallowing them can block bowel; warnings not mandated on packages, study says

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Parents need to be better warned about potential health risks and symptoms of children swallowing toys with magnets before shopping for presents this holiday season, a new study says.

When ingested, multiple magnets can stick to each other across a bowel wall, leading to infection in the digestive tract, the need for surgery, and even death. Often parents don't seek medical attention for a child who has swallowed a magnet as quickly as necessary, a study of international incidents by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found.

The findings, based on analysis of 128 magnet-swallowing case in 21 countries, were published online in the journal Pediatric Radiology.

"The majority of swallowed magnetic objects were components of toy sets, including many well-known brands," study author Dr. Alan Oestreich, a professor of radiology at Cincinnati Children's, said in a hospital news release. "Many of the children represented in the survey were 5 years of age or younger and dependent on their parents or guardians to ensure they do not have access to multiple small magnets."

The authors urged parents to pay particular attention when buying toys for small children as written warnings are not mandatory on toys containing magnets.

Symptoms of ingested magnets can be mild and flu-like, but nausea, vomiting, cramps or abdominal pain should be given medical attention, especially if the child is autistic or has other developmental issues. More than 16 percent of the children aged 4 and older who had swallowed magnets had autism.

"One should consider requesting a plain radiograph of the abdomen if symptoms are not immediately attributable to an illness and/or the parent suspects the child may have swallowed magnets," Oestreich said.

The study called for the public to be better educated on the dangers of children swallowing magnets. This included stronger and more frequent manufacturer warnings about the dangers and symptoms of magnet ingestion.

More information

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has more about the dangers of ingestion magnets.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, news release, Dec. 10, 2008

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