While the magnets are popular everywhere because magnets are fun, the Toronto-based researchers analyzed cases from the Hospital for Sick Children in that city. (Yes, that is the hospital’s actual name.) They sifted through more than ten years’ worth of cases involving patients under 18 who had ingested foreign objects, finding 94 cases where a magnet was confirmed to be the swallowed object.
Researchers divided the study period up into two periods: before and after 2009, which
is the year that strong neodymium-iron-boron magnets like Buckyballs became popular. While 94 kids is a small sample, they found that the number of patients who were admitted after swallowing magnets tripled in the later period, after 2009, and the number of patients who had swallowed multiple magnets increased tenfold.
Swallowing one magnet isn’t so bad, but swallowing multiple magnets can cause serious damage to the digestive tract. 20% of children in the study who had swallowed more than one magnet needed emergency surgery because the magnets had caused infection or perforated their bowel. Magnets will cling together, and don’t particularly care whether a child’s intestines are in the way.
Their conclusions? Other than the obvious “don’t eat magnets,” the researchers say that parents and children should be educated on the possible dangers of small magnets, and the potentially fatal results that can come from gobbling more than one.
Companies that market the magnets insist that the toys are not intended as toys for children, and that no one should be snarfing any magnets.