Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Magnets in toys

At this time of year, Pediatric Health Associates would like to remind parents of the hazards of magnetic toys. Magnets are found in many toys and there have been past recalls for magnetic parts in popular toys such as Barbie and Polly Pockets. Young children tend to put everything in their mouths. Anytime they swallow foreign objects like coins, buttons, needles or magnets, parents are concerned. While some of these items pass harmlessly through a child’s system, others represent serious danger. Needles and magnets are especially dangerous. While needles are not in toys, magnets are quite common.

Magnets are particularly dangerous because of their positive and negative attraction to each other. This attraction can cause intestinal perforation, infection or blockage and can be fatal. In 2008 alone, there were 231 toy recalls representing over 30 million toys. Many of these toys were manufactured by mega toy companies such as Hasbro and Mattel. Even extremely popular characters such as Dora the Explorer and Sponge Bob Square Pants had product recalls this year.

If you suspect your child has swallowed a magnet, seek immediate medical attention. Non-specific symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Although pre-school children pose the highest risk group for swallowing foreign objects, it is not uncommon for older children to swallow objects. Many children who were treated in emergency rooms for swallowing magnets were between six and eleven years of age.

In the under 5 population, over 80,000 children were treated in emergency rooms this year for toy related injuries. When the Polly Pockets recall of 2006 occurred, magnets as small as 1/8th of an inch in diameter fell out. Even at this tiny size, these magnets are powerful enough to cause serious damage. Although these toys may be off the toy shelf, many still can be found at garage sales and resale shops.

There is good news on the horizon. This past August President Bush signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. For toys, this legislation places new limits on lead content in toys, more stringent testing by accredited labs to certify that toys are safe and tracking labels will be required for easier identification for product recalls. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Toy Industry Association and consumer groups were instrumental in passage of this bill which will go into effect on February 10, 2009. Parents should continue to be vigilant to read labels and warnings on toy boxes this year as many dangerous toys will still be on the shelves for this Christmas season.

For the latest information on toy recalls, visit www.recalls.gov or www.pedsforparents.com.

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