Doctors are cautioning parents to be aware of what their children and teens put into their mouths these days. Recent studies published by the Journal of Pediatrics show that incidents of magnet swallowing have nearly quadrupled since 2002. As part of a team of five gastroenterologists, Dr. Anthony Porto, Director of Pediatric gastroenterology at Greenwich Hospital says the department deals with about one case every 5 to 6 weeks.
"Over the last year to two years, I think we've seen the incidents go up, part of it is because I think is because we have a better protocol for how to handle these cases. I think initially when patients would come to the emergency room, we didn't really have an awareness of how dangerous these magnets were, so they might have been discharged home from the emergency room or have gone to surgeries or pediatric gastroenterologists might not have seen them."
The main culprit: high-powered ball bearing neodymium magnets, otherwise known as "BuckyBalls". Although these rare magnets were banned from children's toys in 2006, they're still being manufactured as part of adult desk toys. Though children and early toddlers account for 50 percent of magnet ingestion, incidents in teens are also on the rise.
"What's interesting about these small magnets is that they're silver so we're seeing some kids, some adolescents use them as fake tongue piercings, as fake earrings, nose piercings and then they can inhale them and then accidentally swallow them."
With 10 times the strength of the typical refrigerator magnet, ingestion of these magnets can be fatal if not treated quickly, especially if multiple magnets are swallowed.
"Usually what we're thinking about is simple erosions and ulcers that can usually heal on their own, but what we're more concerned about is when there's one or two magnets, because the magnets together have a very high strength that can cause irritation but the concern is if they separate in the intestines, then they can cause more damage in the intestines."
Porto says pay close attention to the warning signs.
"If your child is having belly pain or vomiting, ask, did you eat something by accident because the sooner we can find out what the cause is, the sooner we can prevent long-term complications."