What is the magnetic ball trend and why are doctors so concerned about it?

Parents are being warned about the dangers of magnetic balls [Photo: Getty]
Parents are being warned about the dangers of magnetic balls. [Photo: Getty]

Doctors are warning parents about a dangerous new trend which risks children swallowing magnetic balls.

The craze involves children putting the small magnetic balls in their mouth – one inside the mouth and one outside – in order to give the illusion they have a face piercing.

But some have accidentally swallowed the balls, which can damage the digestive system.

It has been reported that at least four children in the Stockport area have needed abdominal surgery after accidentally swallowing the magnets.

Though the magnets are widely available in stores and online in the UK, they are banned by some countries.

The main problem is that the magnets continue to work even once inside the body and can stick to each other through loops of gastrointestinal tract, potentially causing bowel perforation or intestinal blockage.

This sort of damage can also lead to tears and potentially internal bleeding, and could be fatal if not treated quickly and the source of the damage removed.

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MyHealthcare Clinic's Dr Stephanie Ooi, a GP, told Yahoo UK that magnetic balls can be extremely dangerous if swallowed.

“These balls may cause a choking hazard if grouped together, but even individually can cause damage to the digestive tract including the delicate lining of the bowel,” she says.

“This can cause tears which could lead to internal bleeding and further infection.

“Recently, there have been a number of cases where these magnetic balls have been swallowed causing perforated bowels and tears in the stomach which had required surgical intervention.

“I would recommend keeping them away from children.”

Last year a six-year-old girl suffered a perforated bowel after she accidentally swallowed a magnetic ball bearing.

It was reported that Libbie Walker needed major surgery and was left with a seven-inch scar, which runs from her belly button to her hip.

Three other children, including a four-year-old, were also rushed to hospital after swallowing the ball magnets.

The four-year-old was lucky to escape injury as the magnets stuck to each other and passed through their digestive system without complications.

However, the two others were admitted to the children’s ward with significant internal damage.

One suffered a perforated stomach and duodenum after swallowing nine ball magnets, while another had a small bowel perforation.

The magnetic balls can continue to work in the body if they are swallowed potentially risking internal tears [Photo: Getty]
The magnetic balls can continue to work in the body if they are swallowed, potentially risking internal tears. [Photo: Getty]

Following the spate of hospital admissions, a letter from a Stockport doctor has been distributed to schools in the area urging parents not to buy the balls for their children.

It warns parents that if the “highly magnetic” balls are swallowed, the digestive system and the intestines can be “severely damaged”.

“I cannot emphasise [enough] how dangerous these can be if swallowed. You may wonder why a child would swallow these or you may think ‘my child wouldn’t swallow them’ but I plead with you to not take the risk,” the letter says, according to Metro.

“The balls are highly magnetic and when swallowed can cause severe damage to the digestive tract.

“As the balls move through the bowel they can magnetise together even when in different parts of the bowel.

The letter explains that the pressure applied to the bowel tissue between the two magnets is so strong it causes a perforation in the bowel.

“This is extremely serious and can be fatal if not identified and promptly fixed by abdominal surgery,” it adds.

Sanja Besarovic, a consultant paediatric surgeon at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, has previously written to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents warning against the craze and calling for more official warnings.

“We have been able to save these children but I'm growing increasingly concerned that this is happening often,” she said.

“Both of the children recovered well after surgery but the next child may not be so lucky.”

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It isn’t the first time parents have been warned about a potential internal risk of children accidentally swallowing part of a toy.

Back in 2018 doctors advised parents to be alert to the dangers of button batteries following an investigation into the death of a child who swallowed one.

The small, round batteries, which are often found in toys and remote controls, can cause chemical burns if they come into contact with the mouth or nose.

The warning, issued by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, came after an investigation into the death of a child in 2018.