Children's Health

Parents Need to Be on the Lookout For Unsafe Toys

More than 3 million toys and games are sold annually in the United States. Although toys foster learning and exploration, some can cause injury if not used properly. Toy misuse is something surgeons at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital know all too well. They often perform surgeries to remove toys or parts of toys that children have swallowed.

“Children are naturally curious,” said Bob Connors, M.D., president, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and practicing pediatric surgeon, who recently operated on a child who had swallowed magnetic toys. “As part of learning, children may take toys apart and put pieces in their mouth. Whether an unconscious decision or intentional exploration, the action can be fatal.”

Magnetix is one toy recently causing harm. It uses plastic building pieces that have powerful magnets built into them that can be connected together with metal balls. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the toy has caused one death, one aspiration and 27 intestinal injuries. Emergency surgical intervention was needed in all but one case. At least 1,500 incidents of magnets separating from the building pieces have been reported. Although the hazard was initially thought to be a problem primarily for children younger than six, it has since been learned that at least 10 injuries involved children between six and 11 years of age.

Although small in size, the potential impact of swallowing parts of Magnetix is significant.

“If a child swallows more than one tiny powerful magnet detached from the plastic building pieces or, one such magnet and a metallic object, the objects may attract to each other inside the intestines and cause perforations or blockage if not removed,” added Connors.

Magnetix is not the only toy found to cause problems. According to the CPSC, nearly 200,000 children are treated in the emergency room as a result of toy injury annually. Melinda Howard, an injury prevention specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital recommends the following tips for parents to prevent injury or death from inappropriate toy use.

  • Ensure that children play with age-appropriate toys as indicated by safety labels. Consider the child’s interest and skill level, and look for quality design and construction.
  • Regularly check toys for damage. Throw away toys that can’t be repaired.
  • Young children should never play with toys with strings, straps or cords longer than seven inches.
  • Electrical toys are a potential burn hazard. Children under eight should not use toys with plugs or batteries.
  • Always use mylar balloons instead of latex. If you must use latex balloons, store them out of a child’s reach. Deflate and discard balloons immediately after use.
  • Ensure that toys are used in a safe environment.’ Riding toys should not be used near stairs, traffic or swimming pools.
  • Teach children to put toys away safely after playing.’ Ensure that toys intended for younger children are stored separately from those for older children.

“Appropriate selection and proper use of toys, combined with parental supervision, can greatly reduce the incidence and severity of such injuries,” said Howard “It’s also advisable to supervise children at play. Play is even more valuable when parents become involved and interact with children rather than supervising from a distance.”

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is a Grand Rapids-based hospital serving children throughout Michigan. A teaching hospital, it includes more than 150 pediatric specialty physicians with specialized training in providing medical and surgical care to children in more than 40 pediatric specialties. We care for 7,600 children on an inpatient basis and 190,000 children at outpatient sites annually. The staff at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is committed to caring for children and families with compassion, excellence and innovation. The children’s hospital is one of seven hospitals in the Spectrum Health system. Visit’‘to learn more or’‘to learn about the new hospital opening in 2011.’