20 June 2024

Warning after boy swallows magnets

by Tim Nuttall

A mother from Burstwick is hoping to raise awareness of the dangers posed by magnets after her son had to undergo surgery because he had accidentally ingested a small number of miniature magnetic beads.

The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect the identity of her son, was left in shock after discovering the severity of the situation.

She said: “I received a call alerting me to the fact that my son had swallowed the beads while playing with friends. With the beads being so small, around 4mm each, I initially thought that they’d pass through his system, but I decided to ring 111 for advice and reassurance.”

It was only then that the gravity of the situation became apparent. “I was told to take him immediately to A&E as the situation could potentially be life-threatening. It was a real shock.”

Within hours, the 11-year-old was in theatre at Hull Women and Children’s Hospital as surgeons struggled to safely remove the magnets. Initially, it was believed that all four of the beads had attached together in the child’s stomach. However, it soon transpired that two of them had since moved further – causing them to clasp his bowel and stomach together.

With concerns that a failed attempt to pull the beads apart might rupture the lining of the stomach, the surgeons were eventually able to find a way of performing the removal – resulting in the safe extraction of two of the beads.

With the remaining two magnets initially refusing to move, it looked like a second, more invasive, surgery was on the cards. “My son spent the next couple of days on the theatre list. This surgery would have involved them accessing the piece of bowel where the beads were stuck and would have resulted in him being fitted with a temporary stoma bag. Thankfully, the beads eventually began to move through his system and the surgery was avoided – which was a huge relief.

“Abrasions to his stomach lining, caused by the presence of the magnets, resulted in a course of intravenous antibiotics being administered, while laxatives were used to help remove the final two beads and get his bowels working again.”

After four days in hospital, and a lot of concern from those around him, the child is now happily on the road to recovery and last week returned to school – just over a week since he was first taken ill.

Now, with Christmas fast approaching, and the possibility of children receiving toys and games containing miniature magnets as presents, the boy’s mother is urging parents to be vigilant and to actively warn their children of the dangers.

“While we often think about warning young children of potential dangers, it’s easy to forget that these important reminders should be given to older children and teenagers as well.

“These particular magnetic beads are readily and cheaply available online and can be bought in packs containing hundreds of them.

“The beads themselves had been given to him and his friends by someone else and they were all playing around with them. Some, including my son, were experimenting by using them through their skin to create things like moustaches and tongue studs. My son unfortunately coughed unexpectedly and, in that split second, swallowed them.

“Although slightly worried, he just assumed they would pass through his system. It was only a few hours later, after he’d eaten lunch, that he developed a severe stomach ache and he eventually told someone what had happened.”

Praising the staff of Hull Women and Children’s Hospital, the mother added: “The staff were amazing with us and we got seen really quickly.

“From us walking into A&E, to getting put on the Acorn Ward at the hospital, we were well looked after and I can’t thank them enough for their care, compassion and support.”

A spokesman for Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “While we cannot comment on specific cases, we can confirm that incidents involving ingestion of magnets are infrequent at our hospital.

“However, it is still a concerning issue as the consequences can be devastating for both child and family.

“This festive season, we would urge parents to move small magnetic items out of the reach of children. Toys with magnets that have come loose should be fixed as soon as possible or disposed of safely. Magnets should not be attached to glassware as they can become loose, making them easy to swallow.

“If a parent suspects their child has swallowed a magnet, they should be taken to the nearest A&E or call 999 for an ambulance.”

In 2021, a trend featuring a similar type of miniature magnet being used by children as fake facial piercings on social media platform TikTok resulted in NHS England issuing a stark warning about the dangers of playing with magnets.

A patient safety alert was issued after a sharp rise in hospital admissions, particularly among older children and teenagers who had been influenced by the social media trend.

Commenting at the time, England’s top children’s doctor was pushing for a ban to prevent further incidents.

Professor Simon Kenny, paediatric surgeon and national clinical director for children and young people at NHS England, said: “Magnets are a source of fascination for children, and magnetic toys can look like a cheap and cheerful way of occupying the kids, but ultimately they aren’t safe and shouldn’t be for sale.

“There is nothing fun for children or their parents about surgery to remove magnets that have been swallowed and become stuck together through different parts of the intestines, or the long-term physical problems and internal scarring that can be left behind.

“I would urge parents to be aware of the dangers associated with magnetic toys but ultimately, the only way we can prevent future incidents is to stop these items being sold altogether.”

Unlike traditional magnets, these super-strong magnets, less than 6mm in diameter, are powerful in magnetism and can be easily swallowed.

Magnetic objects are forced together in the intestines or bowels, squeezing the tissue so that the blood supply is cut off. Ingesting more than one can be life-threatening and cause significant damage within hours.

One such case involved 18-month-old twins, one of whom swallowed 23 magnets that closed into a loop and created a potentially lethal bowel twist. The toddler needed emergency surgery at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, where doctors were able to remove the magnets.

The trauma left holes in the child’s bowel which required stitching, but he has since recovered.

A precautionary scan found that his twin brother had also ingested four magnets, which necessitated keyhole surgery to remove.

A spokesman for NHS England said: “Any cases of swallowed magnets should be treated as an emergency.

“It is important not to wait for any symptoms of pain or sickness, as this could be a sign that harm has already occurred. If magnets have been swallowed, seek NHS assistance immediately at the nearest A&E.”