A warning for families about magnetic toys

Posted on Friday 11th June 2021
Magnetic balls removed at Evelina London

Magnetic balls removed at Evelina London

Surgeons at Evelina London are urging parents to be aware of the dangers of small magnetic balls, which can be found in some toys, after seeing a rise in the number of children who have needed operations after swallowing them. 

Holly Astirbadi's three-year-old son, Albie, needed open surgery at Evelina London after swallowing six of the magnetic balls in November 2020.

Holly, from Gravesend in Kent, said: “My other son has autism so we had a toy, which contained the magnets, to help him focus. If I had known what could happen I would not have had any of those magnets in the house.”

An X-ray showed that Albie had five magnetic balls connected in a line in his intestine, with a sixth ball in his stomach holding them all in place.

Holly said: “The balls magnetised together through the tissue of his stomach. If they had been there any longer it could have caused serious damage. Albie was in hospital for a week after the surgery but he’s fine now. The surgeons at Evelina London were absolutely brilliant with him.

“I’m sharing Albie’s story in the hope that it will stop other children and their parents going through the same thing. To know I had bought the toy made me feel awful. Unless your child is older, don’t buy them. They are fantastic for so many things but so dangerous at the same time, and with little ones you never know what they are going to put in their mouth.”

Swallowing a magnet can pose a serious choking risk and ingesting more than one magnet can be life-threatening as the objects are attracted to each other within the intestine.

Mr Hemanshoo Thakkar, a consultant surgeon at Evelina London said: "We have conducted an observational study across four regional centres identifying a five-fold increase in the number of children swallowing magnets in the last four years. Almost half of all children who ingested a magnet across our region required surgery to retrieve the magnet.

“Magnets can cause serious injury to the intestines including perforation of the bowel. Of all the complications seen in our study, magnets accounted for 80% of them."

Our team has recently published a study about the increasing cases of children swallowing magnets in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood. You can also learn more about the danger of magnetic toys on the NHS website.