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Battery and magnet danger Children's Wisconsin

Magnets, batteries and the potential dangers of holiday toys

With the holiday season in full swing, hidden choking hazards are all around, including toys, candy, and even pine needles. Two choking hazards that can be easily overlooked or missed are batteries and magnets. Both are found in toys, decorations, musical greeting cards and more.

Unfortunately, it’s very easy for kids, especially small ones, to find a battery or magnet and swallow it in the blink of an eye. As battery-powered and magnetized toys rise in popularity among kids of all ages, we’ve also seen an increase in cases of serious injury. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, hundreds of kids are treated for ingestion of magnets in emergency rooms across the country every year. Almost all of these ingestions occur within a child’s own home.

Prevention is key

Children are naturally curious. One of the ways they discover new things is by putting them in their mouths. Awareness and prevention are the best way to keep kids safe from ingesting magnets and batteries. 

Here are a few tips to keep kids safe this holiday season around magnetized toys and batteries:

  • Always check the recommended age range on toys, especially those with batteries or magnets.

  • Keep in mind older siblings who may have these toys around the house. Keeping older and younger siblings’ toys separated can help prevent younger children from getting their hands on toys that are not age appropriate.

  • Allow kids to play with magnetized or battery-operated toys only under adult supervision and keep them safely stored away at all other times.

  • For toys with batteries, make sure the battery cover is closed, secured and cannot be easily opened by the child.

  • Store batteries in an area that is not accessible for young children.

  • Do not keep refrigerator magnets within reach of young children.

  • Speak to your older children about not swallowing items that are not food.

How do I know if my child swallowed a battery or magnet? 

Magnet and battery ingestion, whether of the coin-sized variety or even bigger like AAA batteries (yes, these can get beyond the mouth!), can be very dangerous. Since these accidents can happen so quickly, parents might not be aware that something is wrong. Signs and symptoms your child has swallowed a battery or magnet include: 

  • Coughing/gagging

  • Drooling

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Breathing faster, harder, or a consistent whistle noise with breathing

  • Pain, discomfort and/or anxiousness

  • Vomiting stomach contents or blood

  • Throat pain

  • Abdominal pain

  • Chest pain

  • Bloating

What to do

If you suspect your child has swallowed a magnet or a battery, take them to the emergency room immediately. Do not allow your child to eat or drink anything until assessed by a doctor and do not induce vomiting in your child. Call 911 right away if your child cannot breathe and their lips are blue. You should also call 911 if your child is vomiting blood.

X-rays will be needed to identify the location of the battery or magnet, and to determine if multiple magnets or a magnet as well as a metallic foreign body (i.e. something stuck to the magnet) were ingested. Newer magnets are smaller and even more powerful than before, meaning the “wait-and-see” approach previously used is not recommended. 

If multiple magnets or a magnet with another piece of metal were swallowed, they could be attracted to each other, potentially tearing parts of the digestive system as they connect. This can cause serious, potentially life-threatening injuries. Quick action is needed to prevent this or treat what damage has already been done. 

Button batteries often require urgent removal. The majority of batteries ingested are button batteries and these can become fatal within hours, if lodged in the esophagus. Button batteries can cause severe burns to the esophagus and a child can bleed to death if medical care is delayed.

No one ever wants to make a trip to the emergency room, especially during the holidays, but if the need arises, Children’s Wisconsin Emergency Department and five urgent care locations are here for you.