Beware magnets, batteries from holiday toys
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Beware magnets, batteries from holiday toys

One recent evening, pediatric gastroenterologist Barbara Verga, MD, fished 10 bright green magnets from the small intestine of a young patient. This was not unusual.

“We are seeing these magnet ingestions with increasing frequency,” Dr. Verga said. Small, brightly colored, and powerful “rare earth” magnets were banned in 2012 but returned to the market in 2016. They are often found in desk toys and “are easy to get hold of and easy to swallow,” Dr. Verga said.

They are also “exceedingly strong,” she said. “If one magnet goes farther down into the small bowel and the other is behind, they will attract one another, and loops of bowel will be trapped between. The pressure makes a hole in the bowel. There have been many reports of kids who have died from overwhelming infection or have required a small bowel transplant.”

Another household danger, especially around the holidays, are flat, disc-shaped batteries, found in toys, remote controls, and musical greeting cards. Batteries in these cards are often large and easily removed, Dr. Verga warned.

“The tightest part of the gastrointestinal tract is near the collarbone,” she said. “If a battery gets caught there it can burn through the tissues of the esophagus in as little as four hours and burn all the way through to the aorta. If that happens, a patient can bleed to death in seconds.”

In both cases, doctors will use x-rays to locate the object.

“Magnets or batteries in the stomach or the beginning of the small intestine can be removed endoscopically,” using a net, Dr. Verga said. If they are farther down and have stalled, they will require surgical removal.

Magnets and devices with batteries should always be kept away from small children, Dr. Verga said – even dead batteries, “which can still have enough charge to burn tissue in the throat. That’s why you should always throw dead batteries away.”

Barbara Verga, MD and Pediatric Gastroenterology are part of Atlantic Medical Group, a multidisciplinary network of health care providers. For more information, visit atlanticmedicalgroup.org. Dr. Verga can be reached at 973-971-5676.


What parents should do if magnets, batteries are swallowed

1.  Drive to the emergency room immediately. This is an emergency.

2.  Do not give your child anything to induce vomiting.

3.  If there is a similar object to the one swallowed, it may help to bring it to the emergency room, so doctors have an idea of the size and shape.

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