It’s always great when science and learning can be combined with imagination and enjoyment. But for one such experiment-turned-toy, the hazards can be fatal.

These shiny magnetic balls, that have been steadily rising in popularity, can be fashioned into endless shapes and patterns . . . providing your children with hours of fun. And all parents know how important HOURS of fun are when it comes to entertaining kids.

These executive desk toys, however, are also causing choking concerns and worse. The BB-sized spheres, known as Buckyballs to Nanospheres to Zen Magnets, are sold in sets of over 200 pieces – online and in office stores. And while you can create something beautiful, children are swallowing loose pieces at record rates.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it all started in 2002 when incident reports started pouring in. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has received over 200 of those same reports since 2008, with a toddler recently dying due to complications from the magnets. Teens and older children are also facing problems because they swallow the powerful toys while trying to fake tongue or lip piercings.  And despite warnings on the desk toys, many parents give their kids the go-ahead without realizing the true hazards.

The CDC reported on the fatal magnet encounter, as well as 19 more problems that required gastrointestinal surgery; with much of the issue being attributed to the magnets coming together around or through internal organs.  So while choking seems like the most likely culprit, once swallowed, the magnets enter a whole new playing field of trouble.

But what can you do? Especially if you aren’t able to monitor your children when they go to other houses or stay with family? Well the AAP offers safety tips that should always be followed.

First, make sure that no one under the age of 14 is allowed to play with these powerful magnets. And if you are letting your teenager use them, talk to them about the serious risks of playing games. There’s nothing cool about a fake tongue ring that causes a week long stay in the hospital.

Next, make sure that you keep your adult desk decorations separate from what your kids might be playing with. Pay close attention, especially with a young child, to whether they are handling things that would be inappropriate or dangerous; making sure you explain to them why it is the wrong choice.

And finally, if anything does happen, make sure you seek out medical attention immediately. You can’t assume that it will pass normally, even if that is the most likely scenario. It is, unfortunately, impossible to tell when there will be complications, including obstructions, perforations, or damage to the intestinal walls. So keep on the lookout for any symptoms like stomach problems or diarrhea.

The bad news is that this problem is rising and is extremely hard to diagnose without the proper information. The good news is that using common sense and paying close attention to your child can pay serious dividends.

Never having to hospitalize your child for a magnet problem? Now that’s an attractive option.

Cited Sources

“High-powered Hazard.” High-powered Hazard: Small Magnets Can Cause Death If Swallowed. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2012.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 22 June 2012.

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