x-ray of embedded magnet
X-ray of embedded magnet. Image: NEJM 2017

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 25, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Proving yet again that kids will try almost anything when you're not watching, one European 11-year-old wedged two small magnetized disks up his nostrils -- causing serious medical issues, his doctors report.

The unnamed child from Cyprus was brought to a hospital six hours later with a nosebleed and "severe pain," the physicians wrote in the Oct. 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Examination of the nasal cavity showed mucus and crusted blood," said Drs. Kadir Kazikdas and Mehmet Dirik, of Near East University in Nicosia.

What's worse, the two magnets were attracted to each other across the nasal cavity. That meant they were compressing tissue which in time could lead to tissue death and even perforation of the septum.

The magnets were so powerfully attracted that attempts by ER doctors to remove them didn't work. So the boy "was taken to the operating room for removal of the magnets while he was under general anesthesia," the physicians wrote.

Fighting fire with fire, doctors then decided to use other magnets -- placed outside the nose -- to counteract the pull the internal magnets had on each other. Their plan worked, and the magnets were finally removed.

The child suffered damage to his nasal cartilage and had to wear special splints for 10 days, but his nose eventually recovered, the doctors reported.

Two U.S. experts said kids will sometimes eat or insert into their bodies dangerous foreign objects, so the case was not surprising. Ingesting magnets is rare, said Dr. Jim Dwyer, but it does happen.

Magnets "can cause serious injury and potentially life-threatening complications," said Dwyer, who directs emergency medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital, in Mount Kisco, N.Y.

"When more than one magnet is ingested, or one magnet with one or more other metallic objects, they can stick together across different parts of the digestive system causing obstruction or perforation," he said.

Dr. Michael Grosso, chair of pediatrics at Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y., agreed. He added that swallowing magnets can lead to even more severe effects.

"While swallowing a single magnet is essentially harmless, two or more magnets may pass into the intestinal tract at the same time," he said. "If one is ahead of another, these may become attracted with bowel lining between them, running the risk of severe injury, perforation and, ultimately, infection in the form of peritonitis."

His advice: "Parents need to be aware of these risks and make efforts to keep small magnets entirely out of reach from younger children, who might otherwise decide to swallow them, or place them in any other body cavity," Grosso said.

More information

There's more on keeping kids from ingesting foreign objects at The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne.

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