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Opposites Attract: A Good Thing Unless Magnets Are Swallowed

by The Beasley Firm  |  November 15, 2011  |  

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns that high-powered magnets and children can be a deadly mix.

The CPSC is receiving an increasing amount of reports where children were injured after swallowing magnets. However, it is not just small children or toddlers who are at risk of swallowing magnets. Emergency rooms are seeing an increase in the amount of teenagers who also accidentally swallowed magnets as well.

In 2009, there was one incident reported to the CPSC involving ingestion of high-powered magnets. In 2010, there were seven reports, and so far in 2011, there have been 14 incidents reported. Obviously, these numbers just reflect the number of cases that were reported and I am certain there are many more unreported cases. The last time I checked, magnet ingestion was not on the list of mandatory “reportable” diseases or injuries.

Now, think back to your high school chemistry class when you learned that a positively charged object will be attracted to a negatively charge object. If you dare date yourself, you will also remember Wooly Willy where your magic magnet wand was able to give Willy hair, eyebrows or a beard just by moving magnet fragments around with the wand. Now, just think of what two magnets can do to the inside the body if they are swallowed.

When two or more magnets are swallowed, they can attract to one another inside the body, pinching off tissue or vital blood supply, causing serious injury to the stomach or intestines. In some instances, they could cause metal toxicity, blood poisoning, infections, sepsis, and even death. Medical professionals need to be aware of this hidden hazard and look for it so it is diagnosed and treated right away.

Of course, we are well aware that infants and toddlers are at risk for swallowing magnets that are left within their reach. But, a common and frequently unnoticed cause of magnet ingestion in small children is caused by them taking those thin magnet backed items off of the refrigerator and taking tiny bites out of them. One bite is positively charged and the next bite is negatively charged. Opposites attract.

It is not just toddlers or small children who are at risk of swallowing items they should not. Did you ever stop and think that your tween or teenager is also in danger of swallowing magnets? The newest trend is body piercings. If a tween or teenager is not able to get a real piercing, they may resort to wearing fake piercings to try and “fit in.” Those fake piercings may be made up of two magnets used on opposite sides of a body part. If your child wants to mimic that they have their tongue pierced and use magnets, they may accidentally swallow the magnets and be afraid to tell you or a doctor what happened. That is why it is so important that doctors and nurses be aware that not only toddlers swallow magnets or foreign objects but so do teenagers or older children.

Here at the Philadelphia Beasley medical malpractice law firm, we have on staff two emergency room nurses who have seen and treated emergency room patients who have swallowed foreign objects. Treatment will vary depending on what the swallowed item was and if it can safely pass on it’s own without any medical intervention. However, sometimes a parent does not know that their child swallowed an object and, as a consequence, is brought to the emergency room for vague complaints such as abdominal pain, change in elimination pattern or a decrease in their appetite. This is when it becomes very important that the emergency room physician does a complete physical examination to evaluate if a child ingested something they should not have and it could be causing internal bleeding, intestinal obstruction, bowel perforation, or be lodged in the esophagus. If there is a failure to diagnose an object stuck in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, it could lead to catastrophic injuries or even death.

If you or your child has been injured due to a failure to diagnose foreign body ingestion, please feel free to contact one of our experienced emergency room malpractice attorneys in Pennsylvania for a strictly confidential and free consultation.

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