Any parent knows an infant’s curiosity about new objects isn’t often satisfied until they put the object in their mouth.
But toddlers manage to get their hands on all manner of objects, sometimes meaning danger, especially from those tiny yet powerful magnets and miniature batteries so common today in toys and electronics. Even teens run into problems when they use miniature magnets as fake piercings and accidentally swallow them.
“They can cause so many complications, including death,” said Elizabeth McDonough, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health.
Miniature batteries pose a threat because they can quickly erode a child’s esophagus lining, Dr. McDonough said. They’re found in all manner of toys and devices, including remote controls, thermometers, toys and games, hearing aids, calculators, bathroom scales, key fobs, holiday ornaments and cameras. Nationwide, 2,500 children each year require emergency medical care after swallowing button batteries.
Tiny rare-earth magnets, meanwhile, are surprisingly powerful for their size. If a child swallows more than one, the magnets can spontaneously slam together with enough force to cause serious, even life-threatening damage to the digestive tract. Dr. McDonough treats at least one patient per month who has swallowed tiny magnets or batteries.
Her advice: discourage children old enough to understand from putting anything except food in their mouths. Parents also should be vigilant about spotting and removing tiny batteries, magnets, or other small objects from where small children can reach them.
The federal government keeps a list of toy safety concerns at www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/toys.