August 16, 2012

Dr. Mom: Children at risk from Buckyballs

Children are curious, inquisitive, and they love taking things apart and putting them back together.

Children are curious, inquisitive, and they love taking things apart and putting them back together.

If they happen to be a toddler, things quite often end up in their mouths as they inspect and play with new toys.

Enter Buckyballs. Tiny, super-strength magnets about the size of BBs.

Although marketed as adult "desk toys," these magnets have become quite popular with the 'tween crowd. Many attach them to their ears, lips or tongues to pretend they have various piercings.

What's the big deal?

Unfortunately, accidental ingestion of these tiny magnets is on the rise, and not just among the toddler set. The very real danger is that once ingested, these magnets can cause intestinal perforations, blockage and blood poisoning.

In other words, they can be life-threatening.

Inside the body, they act the same way as they do outside the body – with an incredible affinity for one another, increasing the likelihood of the above complications.

It's why the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a ban on them and is asking the makers of Buckyballs to halt their production and sale.

Since 2009, 22 cases of serious injuries to children have been reported, some requiring surgery and removal of intestinal parts.

And according to the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, these numbers are highly underestimated and continue to rise as long as this product is in the homes where children live and play.

The reality is that children, from toddlers to teens, are drawn to these tiny silver balls like, well, magnets. Even in spite of being marketed to adults and in the face of serious warnings on the product packaging, you can bet kids will find them and want to play with them.

Toddlers will try to eat them, preschoolers may try to stick them in a nose or ear, and 'tweens will fake a piercing or two. Any of the above scenarios can result in accidental ingestion, and then parents are suddenly on the way to the emergency room.

We cannot simply wait for magnets like these to "pass." Children who ingest Buckyballs or tiny magnets like them need to be observed and monitored in the hospital, many needing invasive procedures such as endoscopies and/or surgery.

And while some think the commission's ban is a little too drastic, pediatricians and gastrointestinal specialists across the country absolutely think this is the right thing to do.

As Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children's Hospital/ Baylor College of Medicine, said, "Follow a pediatric surgeon, gastroenterologist or emergency doc at a large children's hospital, (and) you're likely to see things differently."

Ban or no ban, millions of these Buckyball sets have already been sold and are in homes across the nation. So, parents, you need to know these can be extremely dangerous if accidentally ingested.

My advice? If you have some, get rid of them. Don't buy any as gifts for children or for friends who have children.

It's just not worth the risk.

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