In 2005 Kenny died when he swallowed magnets that had fallen out unnoticed from his siblings’ Magnetix building set. Over time these and other toys with small magnets were recalled and new toy standards were developed to address the hazard. Now toys cannot have magnetic components that can be swallowed, and craft and science kits for older children have to be clearly labeled with the risk. Even the brand new children’s jewelry standard has warnings for magnetic jewelry and bans magnets in jewelry for children under 8.

But reports to CPSC about children swallowing high-powered magnets are on the rise again. In a press release today, CPSC notes 22 incidents in the past two years. Although the scenarios differ by age group, from toddlers to teens, the danger is the same. When two or more magnets are swallowed, they can attract one another internally, resulting in serious injuries, such as small holes in the stomach and intestines, intestinal blockage, blood poisoning, and even death. When a magnet has to be removed surgically, it also often requires the repair of the child’s damaged stomach and intestines. In the past, emergency room physicians have likened the internal damage to that of a bullet wound.

Here is what to do to avoid magnet ingestion injuries and what to do if you suspect that your child has swallowed magnets:

  • Keep small magnets and small pieces containing magnets away from children who might swallow them. While these newer products are sold as adult products, they clearly have strong appeal to children and teens.
  • Look out for loose magnet pieces and regularly inspect toys and children’s play areas for missing or dislodged magnets. With hundreds of magnets in some of these sets, it is virtually impossible to keep track.
  • Warn older children and teens of the extreme nature of the injuries ingested or inhaled magnets can cause.
  • If you suspect that magnets have been swallowed, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Look for abdominal symptoms, such as abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Keep in mind that in x-rays multiple magnetic pieces may appear as a single object.

CPSC has a poster available, along with a public service announcement (PSA).