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These rare-earth magnets, often found in desk toys for adults, have been a safety concern for years. Some magnet sets contain hundreds of little magnetic balls, each up to 10 times stronger than an ordinary fridge magnet. If a child swallows just two magnets, they can attract each other inside the body, causing holes in and blockages of internal organs.
Because of these dangers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned sales of the magnets in 2012. As a result, hospital emergency-room visits for magnet ingestions fell by half, one study showed.
But three years ago, in 2016, a federal court lifted the ban. Since then, manufacturers have been regulating themselves. It appears they're not doing a good job.
In 2019, the nation's poison control centers received roughly six times more calls about ingested magnets than in 2016, the Washington Post reports. That's about 1,600 known cases of magnets being swallowed, mostly by children.
What's behind the increase? Medical experts say it has to be because these magnets are back on the market.
The magnet industry has implemented some voluntary safety standards, such as putting warning labels on packaging. But safety groups and regulators say these aren't enough to protect children. For example, safety advocates think the magnets should be made too big to swallow, or made less powerful so that they don't cause organ damage when swallowed.
"This is one of the most dangerous products on the market," pediatric gastroenterologist Bryan Rudolph told the newspaper. "These injuries are gruesome."
To protect your child, keep magnet products out of their reach (better yet, don't even keep them in your house). Even teenagers should be warned about trying to use these magnets to mimic piercings in their mouth, ears, or nose, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
If you think your child has swallowed a magnet or other dangerous object, seek medical attention right away, even if she seems fine. Read about what to do if your child swallows an object.
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