The worrying case of three-year-old Tomas Quinn from Northern Ireland highlights a disturbing trend in serious injuries from children swallowing small, round, coloured magnets from magnetic toys.

Here at the Child Accident Prevention Trust, we’ve also been alerted to cases in North West and South West England, Yorkshire and London.

What are the risks?

If a child swallows the small balls, magnets effectively burn holes in their intestines or bowels. The magnets stick together internally and through organs and tissues, and can cut off blood supply causing tissue to die. They are much more complex than button batteries to extract.

The child will need emergency surgery, then, depending on the severity of the injuries, they may need numerous operations, bowel resection and time in paediatric intensive care.

Suzanne Lawther, a consultant in paediatric surgery at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children explains:

“They (the magnetic ball toys) are about 10 times stronger than traditional magnets and if the magnets end up on either side of a piece of the digestive tract, the magnetic force is so strong that it actually interferes with the blood supply.
“They can cause that bit of bowel to die and ultimately to develop a hole or sometimes abnormal connections between different parts of the bowel, which left untreated can make children and adults very unwell and be potentially life-threatening.”

Product safety

It’s our understanding that the magnets should be covered by toy safety standards. And magnetic toys made by reputable manufacturers have complied for many years.

However, it’s very easy to buy these dangerous magnetic toys online, with no guarantees they are safe.

A warning to other parents

Magdalena Quinn, the little boy’s mother, wants to warn other parents about the dangers posed by the magnetic ball toys, which had been bought online for her son:

“He is a really lucky boy. But the damage that they did is absolutely unreal. They burned holes in the intestines. Whenever they opened him up some of his intestines already leaked out.
“My message is, please stay away from the magnets – no matter how clever you think your children are, accidents can happen.”

More information

  • Don't assume that, just because you can buy something, it must be safe - more about Toy Safety