UC Davis Health doctor warns parents of deadly small magnets children swallow

Local News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Doctors at UC Davis Health are sending a warning to parents to keep small candy-colored magnets out of their home to prevent kids from swallowing them.

Experts say once the objects are ingested, they could burn holes in your digestive tract and if not caught fast enough, could be deadly.

“I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old and as a gastroenterologist, this is my biggest fear,” Dr. Sunpreet Kaur, a pediatric gastroenterologist at UC Davis Health.

For Dr. Kaur, these colorful magnetic objects aren’t toys, they’re dangers.

Adults buy them for their offices to reduce stress and children like to string them into necklaces until they accidentally swallow them.

Since the start of the pandemic, doctors at UC Davis Health are increasingly in the emergency room trying to get the magnets removed.

“I think we’re seeing more cases of this recently due to kids staying at home and parents working from home and just needing more activities to keep kids busy,” Dr. Kaur said.

Dr. Kaur says before the pandemic, she responded to one of these cases on average once every six months, but over the last year, it’s been once every month. And she’s not just saving young children.

“The cases that I’ve seen, it’s usually a teenager who wants to show off to her friends that she has a tongue ring so she’ll take two small magnets and put them on her tongue over zoom or in-person to pretend to have a tongue ring and the next thing she knows she swallowed it,” Dr. Kaur said.

She says swallowing the candy-colored objects alone doesn’t cause symptoms but once the high-powered magnets move through the body, the problems begin.

“Let’s say one detaches in the stomach and the other moves to the small intestine, they’ll find a way to attract to each other from the small intestine and the stomach, creating a hole where there shouldn’t be one and these holes can lead to something called perforation, which is basically the bowel’s gas and bacteria can leak into the stomach, causing peritonitis. And can even cause death,” Dr. Kaur said.

To prevent tears from happening, Dr. Kaur urges families to get emergency help right away.

If they respond within a few hours, doctors can remove the magnets laparoscopically.

Any longer could lead to more invasive surgery, sometimes resulting in a surgeon cutting holes in a child’s bowel.

A risk that Dr. Kaur says should be avoided all together.

“To all the parents out there, magnets, especially small magnets like this and button batteries, are the worst things your kids can possibly swallow, so keep them away,” Dr. Kaur said.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission decided to stop the sale of these magnet sets in 2012 from and eventually took them off the market.

But four years later, a federal appeals court overturned that ruling.

The journal of pediatrics reported a 444% increase in magnet injuries from 2018 to 2019.

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