UAE: 3-year-old boy in hospital after swallowing magnet balls

Dubai - With several cases reported in recent years, doctors have reiterated a warning about the dangers associated with such toys.

By Saman Haziq

Published: Thu 25 Mar 2021, 3:52 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Mar 2021, 7:24 PM

Incidents of kids swallowing magnet balls have skyrocketed in the last few years in the UAE, doctors have said, with several hospitals recording a number of cases. At a hospital in Ajman, the latest victim is a three-year-old boy who is now in intensive care.

“The toddler came with pain in his tummy and had been experiencing bouts of vomiting for three or four days. The family was unaware that the child had ingested magnets. These were discovered only when an X-ray was performed,” said Dr Nadeem Haider, consultant paediatric and neonatal surgeon at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City , Ajman, managed by Pure Health.

Dr Haider warned that these tiny balls — often colourful and attractive — could be extremely dangerous. When ingested, they can cause serious internal injuries and even shred a child’s intestines.

“We have had two children with life threatening injuries to their intestines following ingestion of these magnets in the last one year. Both these children required emergency surgery and intensive care unit admissions. One child even required two operations in a span of 48 hours,” the doctors said.

Most of the kids who swallow these tiny balls — after mistaking them for candies — are between one and six years old, according to UAE hospitals.

At another hospital in Dubai, a six-year-old who accidentally ingested 11 magnetic beads while playing had to undergo an hour-long surgery earlier this month. The magnets, presumably swallowed about a week ago, had damaged the walls of the girl’s intestine in three parts.

Althea Faye Barabacina was rushed to Medeor Hospital, Dubai, after she started vomiting and experiencing severe abdominal pain. She had become pale and dehydrated by the time they reached the ER.

Paediatrician Dr Jamuna Raghuraman examined Althea and suspected intestinal infection. “The symptoms manifested by the child indicated an intestinal infection but we were shocked to see some flashy substances in the ultrasound,” she said.

“The intestines were swollen and appeared obstructed, showing high-level infection, which was unusual…We found the presence of a metallic substance in the form of a string of beads in the CT scan.”

Althea intially denied swallowing anything but later confessed that she did took in magnetic beads while playing at home, said Dr Jamuna.

It turned out the beads were super-strong magnets that can stick to one another even through the walls of the stomach or the intestines. This may result in serious injuries, including holes, intestinal blockages, blood poisoning and fatalities.

Althea was swiftly moved to the operation theatre. Dr Pinkesh Laxmikant Thakkar, general and laparoscopic surgeon, handled the case and performed an hour-long surgery to remove the magnets.

“The girl was saved just in time. Any further delay could have affected the well-being of the child. Ten of the magnetic beads had formed a ring in one place, while one was on the other side of the abdomen. We are happy that the child is perfectly alright. She was in observation for five days. She is now healthy and fit,” said Dr Pinkesh.

Recommending a ban on any such toys with magnets, Dr Haider said: “Although such magnetic toys cost less than Dh50, the physical and psychological trauma and the strain on the healthcare resources are immense… Perhaps a law against the sale or use of these magnets may prevent such injuries in the future.”

Dr Jamuna urged parents to keep their eye on youngsters. “By nature, children have the tendency to open up toys to see the contents. Our responsibility starts from knowing what we are leaving in their vicinity. We should know what we bring home as a toy.”


Why these magnets are dangerous

Children may mistake them for candies and put them in their mouth. These magnets can cause severe damage to the intestinal tract. When multiple magnets are ingested at different times, they reach different parts (loops) of the intestine separately. Then, as a result of their magnetic power, they attract each other and stick together. The wall of the intestine gets caught between the magnets, which may lead to permanent damage. This may result in serious injuries, including holes, intestinal blockages, blood poisoning and even fatalities.

— Dr Nadeem Haider

Tips to keep kids safe

>> Carefully examine toys and make sure they are safe and do not contain loose, tiny parts that can be swallowed

>> If possible, keep pictures of the toy to keep a count of the parts.

>> Coins, button batteries, magnets, safety pins are the most common foreign bodies swallowed by children. Keep them out of reach.

>> Keep a close watch on toddlers 24/7, use cameras if needed

>> In the case of older children, talk to them about how they spend their time in your absence

>> When you suspect they have swallowed something, bring your child to the hospital for an immediate consultation

Supplied photos
Supplied photos

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