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Magnet Ingestion On The Rise In Children

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It's a dangerous attraction, but more and more kids are swallowing a common household item that can cause serious health problems.

"Ten years ago, you did not see that," says surgeon Dr. Michael Morowitz. "We've actually seen cases at Children's Hospital, and similar to recent reports in the literature, the number of cases is rising."

Over the last decade, the number of kids swallowing magnets has quadrupled from fewer than one in a 100,000 to more than three per hundred thousand coming to the emergency room.

This can have serious consequences, especially if multiple magnets are involved.

"It's not uncommon to see children present with up to 10, 20 magnets at one time in the intestines," he continues.

In the intestines, the magnets will stick together, the tissue in between will become damaged, and a hole can form.

"Fortunately, the outcomes have been relatively good in these situations, but have required surgery and removal of part of the intestine to fix the damage from the magnets," he explains.

They can come from gadgets intended for adults that easily catch the eye of curious children.

Most of the time the small beads, discs, or bars are swallowed, but sometimes, they end up being inhaled or shoved into other body cavities as kids imitate nose, tongue and other piercings.

You might think this may be a bigger issue for toddlers who put everything in their mouths, but it's actually older kids. The average age was around 5 for swallowing, and around 10 for inhaling.

"I think we're dealing with items that on the surface don't necessarily seem that dangerous, but without question, particularly because the newer magnets are so strong, there is a health risk," says Dr. Morowitz.

If your child swallows just one magnet, it will simply pass through their system. But if they swallow more than one, or if you're not sure, get to an emergency room right away. Damage can happen in a matter of hours.

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