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When A Boy Sticks Magnets Up His Nose, Doctors Have To Get Ingenious

An 11-year-old boy put small magnets up both nostrils, then couldn't figure out how to get them out. These X-rays tell the tale.
The New England Journal of Medicine
An 11-year-old boy put small magnets up both nostrils, then couldn't figure out how to get them out. These X-rays tell the tale.

Kids stick things in their nose, ears, and mouth all the time; it may be another way for them to explore and learn.

But getting those objects out be challenging, and can take some creativity. Like when an 11-year-old boy put button magnets up both nostrils, where they locked tightly onto his septum.

According to a report published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine ,the boy, unable to get the magnets out and in pain, ended up in the emergency room. The boy, who lives in Cyprus, was taken into the operating room and put under general anesthesia

There, doctors ingeniously turned the problem into the solution. They positioned household magnets on the outside of the boy's nose, and used them to gently maneuver the magnets out.

Magnets have long posed health problems for kids. A 2013 study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that between 2002 and 2011, there were over 22,500 magnet-related injuries in those under 21. Most were from swallowing them, but 21 percent were nose-related.

It's no small matter — magnets in the body can cause serious damage and even death. When an 8-year-old girl in Seattle swallowed rare earth magnets, she ended up with an ulcer forcing the removal of 10 centimeters of damaged intestine.

Younger children are more likely to swallow the small, powerful magnets, while older children are more likely to stick them up the nose or use them to imitate piercings. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has warnedagainst toys containing the small magnets, but they remain easy to buy.

"We fish things out of children's ears, noses, and throats on almost a daily basis." says Dr. Craig Derkay, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters in Norfolk, Va. He's particularly concerned about button batteries, which are often found in watches and toys. As Shots reportedback in 2012, they can cause burns and kill tissue.

Fortunately, the boy with the magnets up his nose had a happy outcome. Six months and some nose splints later, the boy and his nose were healthy again.

Greta Jochem is an intern on NPR's science desk.

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Greta Jochem