Magnetic toys designed for kids can provide a fun, educational experience. However, loose magnets and high-powered magnet sets can cause severe internal injuries in children if they're swallowed.
High-powered or "rare-earth" magnets, as they are also called, are far more powerful than other types of magnets. Because they're so strong, high-powered magnets are used in technology like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, as well as common household appliances like vacuum cleaners and washing machines.
Danger in toys: magnetic sculpture sets, water balloons & more
Among products that have posed the greatest danger to children are high-powered magnets sold as sets of 100 or more small magnetic balls or cubes. These can be arranged or "sculpted" into different shapes. The sets have been marketed as children's toys or as novelty adult desk toys intended for entertainment, mental stimulation or stress relief.
Concerns were recently raised raised about some reusable water balloons that contain small, high-powered magnets to hold them closed. If the magnets are not secured tightly, they can fall out of the toy and be ingested by a child.
Swallowing more than one of these high-powered magnets can be life-threatening. The magnets can pull together inside your child's digestive system with enough force to cause serious damage. These magnets can also get stuck in the nose and cause serious injuries to your child's nasal respiratory tract.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the federal agency that makes sure children's toys and other consumer products are safe. Due to reports of serious injuring to children from swallowing these magnets, the CPSC banned them in 2014. The ban was overturned in 2016. After that, research showed a sharp rise in injuries to children from high-powered magnets.
New safety standard for high-powered magnets
A new safety standard for high-powered magnets went into effect in October 2022. It applies to certain products, including novelty desk toys, that have multiple loose magnets or magnets that can be separated. The magnets in these products must now be too large for children to swallow, or have weaker magnetic fields to reduce the risk of internal injuries when ingested.
According to the CPSC, there were an estimated 2,500 magnet ingestions treated in emergency departments in 2021 caused by products that are now included in the new safety standard.
The federal rule does not apply to toys for children under 14 years old, because they are already part of CPSC mandatory toy standards.
Despite the new standard, it’s important to be aware that there are still some toys with high-powered magnets on the market and in many homes.
How to protect your children from high-powered magnets
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges families with children not to have high-powered magnet sets in their home. Follow these tips to protect your children from being injured by them:
If you have any rare-earth magnets in your home, get rid of them.
Otherwise, keep products with small or loose magnets away from young children. The best option is a locked container in a high or hidden place.
Supervise young children carefully when anyone is using the magnets.
Put the magnets away promptly and check carefully to make sure none are left on the floor or anywhere a young child could find them.
If your child has toys with magnets, check often for cracks where a magnet could come loose.
Check for any magnetic toy recalls from the CPSC. You can also sign up to receive safety alerts.
Don't use magnets in large sets. It's too hard to tell if a few of them have gone missing.
Symptoms of high-powered magnet ingestion
Children who have swallowed magnets may have these symptoms:
These symptoms are common in children, so you may not realize that your child has swallowed magnets right away.
What to do if your child swallowed a magnet
If you think your child has swallowed or been injured by a magnet, contact your pediatrician or the closest emergency department right away. Your child may need surgery.
Putting off treatment can lead to severe injuries to your child's stomach, intestines, and digestive tract. It can even lead to death.
Reporting the injury
If your child has swallowed a magnet or has been injured by a magnetic product, you can report that injury to the CPSC at SaferProducts.gov. Your input could help protect other children. You'll be asked to share your child's information, but it's not required.
The CPSC is required to publish accident or investigation reports. However, these reports don't include identifying information for either you or your child. If they need more information, the CPSC will contact you directly. Your contact information is not shared with others, either.