Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 October 2019

UAE doctor calls for magnetic toy ban after injuries to children

At least eight youngsters have been rushed to hospital after swallowing the toy

An X-ray showing nine of the magnets in the stomach of a child. If multiple magnets are swallowed they can potentially cause dangerous tears to the intestine.
An X-ray showing nine of the magnets in the stomach of a child. If multiple magnets are swallowed they can potentially cause dangerous tears to the intestine.

A UAE doctor has called for a ban on a popular magnetic toy after more than half a dozen children suffered serious injuries swallowing them.

Dr Iftikhar Jan, chief of paediatric surgery at Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said he was aware of at least eight cases where youngsters had been rushed to emergency rooms suffering severe abdominal pain.

The toy is sold by a variety of manufacturers and consists of dozens of small, often colourful magnetic spheres that children use to construct different shapes.

If multiple magnets are swallowed by a child they can link up inside the stomach, potentially causing dangerous tears to the intestine.

“The number of children coming to hospital after swallowing magnets is increasing,” said Dr Jan.

“In Mafraq alone we have seen eight cases. There should be a complete ban on their purchase in shops and on the internet.

“The problem is when [children] swallow more than one magnet, because one goes to one part of the intestine and the other goes to another part of the intestine and then they [the magnets] attach.

“In the process, they can cause a hole which can lead to severe infections.”

An X-ray showing two of the magnetic spheres in a child's stomach.
An X-ray showing two of the magnetic spheres in a child's stomach.

Companies behind the powerful magnets market them as either educational toys for children or as desktop items for adults wanting to alleviate stress.

In 2012, the American Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of one version of the toy whose manufacturer subsequently positioned the product for adults rather than youngsters.

Numerous variations of the magnets are available to buy online and typically sell for around Dh125. Defenders of the toy say the rate of injury is very small and that labels clearly warn they can be a danger to children.

“Most developed countries have already banned them,” said Dr Jan. “It is very serious and I am sure there are some children who died [swallowing them].”

Um Suhail, from the capital, described how her son Suhail, aged six, had swallowed eight magnets after watching a YouTube video of someone doing the same.

Magnetic spheres that can be easily swallowed.
Magnetic spheres that can be easily swallowed.

“I saw Suhail playing with the magnets and assumed he was old enough to know not to swallow them,” the mother-of-four said.

“I heard him say to himself, I have 32 magnets but ‘oh, now they are 24 because I swallowed eight’. That’s when I immediately rushed him to hospital.

“I asked him why he swallowed them and he said it was because he saw a YouTuber doing it.

“When doctors took the first X-ray they couldn’t tell how many magnets he had swallowed because they had all attached to each other.

“Thankfully they were attached to the lining of the stomach and didn’t cause a lot of damage as other cases have.”

Abdulrahman Atiq, seven, from Abu Dhabi, also swallowed two of the magnets last week.

“My son was playing with his cousin and they were competing over who could swallow the most magnets,” said Abdulla Al Atiqi, 41.

“He swallowed two and his cousin swallowed one, then stopped,”

He said the youngsters had been given the magnets from a neighbour’s child who bought them from a local supermarket.

“When my wife realised what had happened she threw the magnets away because she was worried that our 18-month-old would swallow them,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it was too late as Abdulraham had already swallowed them by then.”

Abdulrahman Atiq, seven, from Abu Dhabi, also swallowed two of the magnets last week. Victor Besa / The National 
Abdulrahman Atiq, seven, from Abu Dhabi, also swallowed two of the magnets last week. Victor Besa / The National 

The magnets are usually removed through an endoscopy, which involves inserting a long tube down through a patient's mouth and into their gut.

Abdulrahman was allowed home last Thursday after spending four days in hospital following his treatment.

Updated: July 16, 2019 12:49 PM

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