The excitement of giving a child a gift is one of the best parts of the holiday season. At the same time, it’s important to remember some of the toys that bring joy can also pose unseen dangers to kids.
Learn what to watch for so kids can enjoy a safe and fun holiday.
“One of the biggest concerns we have during the holidays is any kind of gift with small magnets or batteries that small children may swallow,” says Dr. Abby Smolcich, a pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Darboy.
Small, shiny round magnets — the kind sometimes found in certain toys — were causing so many injuries to children that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USPC) stopped the sale of them in 2012.
A U.S. Court of Appeals later overturned the ruling. When the magnets went back on the market in 2017, Nationwide Children’s Hospital reported a 400% increase in the number of children hospitalized for magnet ingestion.
Magnets are dangerous because if a child swallows more than one, they can connect to each other through tissue, cutting off blood supply and creating blockages. This can lead to severe injury, infection, or death.
“One of the additional problems with these magnets is that problems may not start for hours,” Dr. Smolcich says. “Parents may think the child will be fine and the magnet just needs to pass, not knowing that the child swallowed more than one. Children also may be reluctant to admit how many they swallowed.”
Button batteries or small lithium coin cell batteries also pose risks to children. Swallowing either of these can cause injury, and it’s important to seek prompt medical care.
Even if a child simply places a button cell battery — the type used in watches and hearing aids — in their nose or ear, seek immediate medical attention. These batteries can cause damage to the nasal septum or eardrum, lead to infections or trouble breathing, and impact a child’s ability to smell or hear.
Lithium coin cell batteries, which are thinner and have a higher voltage than button batteries, are found in items like scales, key fobs, and some electronic toys and games. These batteries are about the size of a nickel and are considered the most dangerous to children. Because of their size, they can lodge in a child’s throat and cause chemical burns through the esophagus within two hours. This is a life-threatening emergency.
“Never wait to seek medical attention if you believe your child has swallowed a battery,” Dr. Smolcich says. “Thousands of children are hospitalized each year and unfortunately, some of these result in fatal outcomes.”
Other Potential Toy Concerns
According to the USPC, about 206,000 children in the United States were treated for toy-related injuries in 2021. The agency said U.S. emergency departments treated more than 224,000 children due to toy-related injuries.
Consumer watchdog group World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (W.A.T.C.H.) recently released its 2023 list of the “10 Worst Toys.”
Water beads, which are often used as sensory toys, made this year’s list. Other items included toy weaponry, with the potential for blunt force and eye injuries; plush pillow toys that could lead to infant suffocation; and other small toys that may lead to choking or ingestion injuries.
Other toys known to cause injury include trampolines and scooters. Get additional tips for what to watch for from Mayo Clinic.
“Parents also should pay attention to toy recalls, as they most often address concerns of safety,” Dr. Smolcich says. “That includes bicycle helmets, which are vital to preventing head injuries. Damaged or recalled bike helmets can fail to protect in the event of a crash, posing a risk of head injury.”
Dr. Smolcich reiterates that the holidays are a great time to be with friends and family. To help ensure safety, caregivers should remember to monitor the toys that children are receiving.
“If we keep a close eye on our little ones, it will help us all enjoy the season,” she says.