Don't Stick Magnets in Your Nose: Boy's Case Shows Risks

magnets, skull, nejm
Two magnets can be seen in these X-ray images of the boy's skull. In the image on left, the magnets appear as two white vertical lines. In the image on the right, taken from the side, the magnets' circular shape is visible. (Image credit: The New England Journal of Medicine ©2017)

Magnets can be dangerous toys for children — if swallowed, they can stick together, creating holes in the body, and lead to a medical emergency.

The same appears to be true even in cases when children don't swallow the magnets. Take, for example, a recent case of an 11-year-old boy in Cyprus who inserted two flat, circular magnets into his nostrils.

The magnets, one of which was in each nostril, were drawn together, and the boy was unable to remove them, according to the case report, published today (Oct. 25) in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Six hours after putting the magnets in his nose, the boy was brought to the emergency room. His nose was bleeding and he was in severe pain, the report said. X-rays revealed the two magnets stuck together, pinching the boy's nasal septum, which is the wall between the nostrils that separates the nasal passages.

But the ER doctors were unable to pry the magnets apart: "Attempts to remove the magnets in the emergency department were unsuccessful because of intense adherence," the report said. [27 Oddest Medical Cases]

Instead, the boy was taken to the operating room to remove the magnets under anesthesia, according to the report. To do this, the surgeons used two additional magnets, which they placed on either side of the outside of the boy's nose, in order to pull the stuck magnets apart.

Magnets tightly pinching the nasal septum can lead to tissue death and perforation, meaning that a hole forms in the septum, according to the report. In the boy's case, the magnets had worn away part of the mucosal lining of his nasal septum, exposing some of the cartilage below. Special barriers were put in the boy's nose to cover the exposed area for several days while his nose healed.

When the doctors saw the boy six months later, his nose had fully healed.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.