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Small magnets pose risk to teens and tots

  • Small magnets like these may seem like harmless objects, but if ingested, the risk could be fatal. (Shutterstock)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Christin Rivas, 14, was fascinated by the small, round toy magnets that you can sculpt into shapes and use to perform magic tricks.

Put a pen on a desk, hold a magnet underneath and watch the pen move across the desktop.

While playing with a couple of these rare-earth magnets at her Satellite Beach, Fla., middle school last week, Christin needed both hands to grab something, so she decided to hold the mini-magnets in her mouth. Someone made her laugh, and … gulp. She swallowed the magnets.

Five days later, Christin was at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Fla., having the magnets surgically removed from her intestines, along with a small section of her colon and her appendix.

Labels warning that magnets are harmful if swallowed have not stopped an increasing number of kids from putting them in their mouths or noses and then getting them stuck in their bodies, where they can cause serious harm.

The groups that get into the most trouble are children age 5 and younger, and tweens and teens, who use the magnets to mimic tongue, lip, cheek or nose piercings.

“Kids swallow a lot of objects,” said Dr. Tejas Mehta, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Arnold Palmer who treated Rivas, “but from a GI perspective, magnets cause more damage than anything else.”

That risks soars when more than one magnet goes down.

Magnets will work so hard to find each other that their force can cause intestines to twist and become blocked. The pull can also cause erosion, then ulceration, and eventually the intestine can perforate, causing infection, Mehta said.

Four out of five kids who swallow multiple magnets will need an invasive procedure, such as an endoscopy or surgery, said Mehta, who has heard of kids swallowing magnets and needing massive bowel resections.

From 2002 to 2011 magnet-related emergency-room visits among Americans younger than 21 increased fivefold, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

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