Five-fold increase in children swallowing magnets in London; here’s what to keep in mind


Infants and young children have the tendency to put everything in their mouths and often even end up swallowing small items like shiny coins, buttons, small battery etc. But, in what is being seen as a worrying trend, there has been a “five-fold increase” in magnet ingestion over the past five years in young children in London, reported The Guardian.

According to the report, the cases are a cause of concern given that there has been a “steady rise” in hospital admissions in London caused by the swallowing of such foreign objects.

While most of the times the objects pass out of the body naturally without incident, button batteries and small permanent magnets found in cordless tools, hard disk drives, magnetic fasteners, and certain types of children’s toys have been associated with complications.

“We very rarely see two [magnets] we usually end up seeing five or six together … presumably children tend to grasp a lot of them. I think the most we’ve had is 20+,” said Dr Hemanshoo Thakkar from the department of paediatric surgery, Evelina London Children’s hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, London, reported the website.

Between January 2016 and December 2020, there was a 56 per cent increase in foreign body ingestion – and during this period 251 children (with 93 coin, 52 magnet and 42 button battery cases ingested) were admitted across four children’s surgical centres in the south-east of England: Evelina London children’s hospital, King’s College hospital, St George’s University hospitals and the Royal Alexandra children’s hospital.

According to the report, in 2016, the four centers recorded four cases of magnets being ingested, compared with 25 in 2020.

Over the study period, one of the 42 cases of button battery ingestion required surgery for retrieval, compared with 22 out of the 52 magnet ingestions. Overall, 10 out of 251 patients had surgical complications following the retrieval of the objects – and magnets caused 80 per cent of those complications.

While the ingestion of a single magnet does not typically require intervention, multiple magnets tend to attract each other, which can cut off the blood supply in the gut, according to

They can damage a child’s GI tract and can twist intestines, causing bowel ulcerations, intestinal damage, perforations, blood poisoning, and even death, mentioned the site.

Researchers are analysing whether the trend is similar across the UK, but anecdotally, said Thakkar, it appears this is “not just south-east London problem, it’s a UK problem”.

play and learn Make sure your child doesn’t have toys with magnets, buttons or coins. (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

What to do if your child swallows a foreign object?

Experts mention that parents should keep potential ingestion hazards away from young children — up high, out of sight, and out of reach.

If there are benign items, a child could have any of these symptoms

Trouble swallowing.
Chest pain.
Stomach pain.
Problems going to the bathroom.

Get rid of any toys that have magnets or coins in them.

You should either contact your pediatrician or take your child to a hospital emergency department.

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