Along with more advanced technology comes an increased risk of danger to children in the form of rare-earth magnets and lithium batteries. As kids are spending more time at home now during the pandemic and over winter break, there are some precautions parents should take into consideration, especially since new toys (for both kids and adults) may be entering the household during the holidays.

“Children are spending more time at home this year due to the pandemic, virtual schooling and now for the holidays,” says Dr. Alycia Leiby a pediatric gastroenterology physician with Atlantic Health System. “It is a challenging time as parents’ attention can be divided between responsibilities of managing work, home and educating their children all at once. This poses an increased risk of ingestion of potentially dangerous objects and substances.”

Rare-earth magnets pose a risk

Rare-earth magnets are the strongest type of magnet available. Because they are small, they are a risk for ingestion by toddlers, children with sensory issues that might mouth objects and even older kids who mistakenly swallow these dangerous items.

“Magnets, particularly high-powered rare-earth magnets made of neodymium pose significant health risks if ingested,” says Leiby. “As these are often sold in large toy sets for building or jewelry, children may consume them, putting them at risk for bowel blockages, perforation (tears in the intestinal tract) and in some cases, death from these complications.”

While there have been regulations over the past 10 years that limit access to these toys, Leiby says that the data shows an increase in emergency room visits for magnet ingestion in the past four years.

“During this time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission lifted the ban on sales previously in place,” she says. Leiby says the best safeguard against magnet ingestion is to decrease kids’ access to them.

“Although it is a time of gift giving around the holidays, avoid bringing these magnets into your home if you have children and educate older children that may encounter these toys at friends’ homes.”

Batteries can also be dangerous

Another high-risk item that might be in your household is a button or disk battery that can also cause severe health complications and even death if swallowed.

“Our children may be given a wide variety of high-tech toys and at any age and these may have battery powered objects that light up, move, talk and even respond to them,” says Leiby. “Many of these contain either small alkaline batteries or large high voltage lithium button or disk batteries.”

Leiby says to be on the lookout for household items such as hearing aids, watches and even decorative candles that may contain these batteries. “Because of their larger size lithium button batteries are particularly dangerous and may become lodged in the esophagus, causing a severe burn,” she says. “Complications of button battery burns can include tears in the esophagus and severe bleeding from damage to the surrounding blood vessels, as well as injury to the airways.”

Again, the best way to avoid injuries is identifying the toys and objects that have these in them and keeping them out of reach.

“Unfortunately, accidents do happen and if your child ingests a magnet or battery bring them to the emergency room immediately,” says Leiby. “New recommendations suggest that for some children over the age of one, taking a spoonful of honey may limit the degree of injury. If you are accompanied by another adult while on the way to the emergency room, call the national poison control hotline (1-800-222-1222) for guidance.”

If you have batteries that need to be disposed of many municipalities offer hazardous waste collection events so check with your local department of public works for the most up to date information.  Another resource to consider is Call2Recycle, a national not-for-profit organization with thousands of drop off sites across the nation.

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