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Tiny magnets make kids' toys fun — but also potentially dangerous

Magnetized toys are popular among kids of all ages. With that, unfortunately, comes an increase in cases of serious injury in children. 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.

Newer magnets are smaller and even more powerful than before. Older versions of magnets weren’t as powerful, meaning swallowed magnets generally could be treated with a wait-and-see approach, relying on them to pass without incident. This is no longer the case.


If you suspect your child has swallowed a magnet or magnets, x-rays are needed to confirm and to identify their location. The number one thing we try to determine quickly is how many magnets were swallowed. A single magnet will likely pass through the intestines without causing any harm. However, 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.

Keeping kids safe

Awareness and prevention are the best way to keep kids safe from ingesting magnets.

If a magnetized toy breaks, these small and powerful magnets can end up kids’ hands. Often, these magnets look like a grain of rice and are shiny material, making some kids feel the need to ingest them. Make sure you speak to your children about not swallowing items that are not food.

Be sure to always check the recommended age range on toys, especially those with magnets. And 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 magnetized toys. It’s best to only allow kids to play with magnetized toys under adult supervision and to keep them safely stored away at all other times. 

You can also keep count of the magnetized toys or individual magnets in the house. Often, kids won’t report or fully understand what they swallowed, and the signs and symptoms of swallowing magnets can often be mistaken for a viral illness. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Knowing the number of magnets in the house can help you assess the situation quickly if you suspect your child has swallowed them.

Listen to my radio interview on this topic to learn more.