700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

How To Choose Safe Toys

Nov 26, 2013

Before you head out shopping this weekend double check your list against the dangerous toy list released today. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) released it’s annual Trouble in Toyland report.

Their key findings included:

  • Lead and toxic chemicals continue to be a hazard in toys.
  • Toys that contain small choking parts and noisy toys that can hurt a child’s hearing on still on store shelves.
  • Magnet toys were found. Between 2009-2011 there were 1,700 emergency room cases involved a child swallowing a magnet.

Here at the hospital we have had to treat too many children with severe and life-altering injuries due to dangerous toys.  Too often, we see the young child who is brought into our emergency department after choking on a small toy.  If the child is “lucky”, the small toy will have been sucked into a lung and we will be able to remove it in the operating room.  If the child is unlucky and the small toy completely blocks off the upper airway for even a few minutes, brain damage or death will likely result.

Two types of toys that children frequently choke on are small balls and balloons.  Balls are the perfect size and shape to completely block a young child’s airway.  They can wedge themselves in, making them almost impossible to remove, even with proper emergency medical equipment.  Balloons are another product with deadly characteristics.  In fact, they cause more choking deaths in children than any other product.  If a balloon breaks while near a child’s mouth, it can get drawn into the child’s airway when they take a sudden gasp of air as they are surprised by the sound.  When this happens, the balloon can get draped over the entrance to the voice box.  As a child tries to breathe, the balloon acts like shrink wrap – conforming to and completely blocking the airway.  To prevent these injuries, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that balloons not be used if children younger than 8 years old will be present.

Magnets are another type of product that can cause injuries when swallowed. While there have been many stories in the news about the dangers of the small but powerful rare-earth magnet toys, like those sold by Buckyballs, these types of toys are still available. The danger in these types of products occurs when they are ingested. If more than one of the magnets is swallowed, the attraction force of the magnets is so strong that they will literally tear holes through organs until they find each other in the body. While the majority of these types of products are not marketed to young children, they are a danger to have in your home if children either live with or visit you.  This is not just a problem for young children. Close to 20% of the injuries are to teens who put the magnets in their mouth trying to simulate the look of a piercing and then mistakenly swallow one or both of the magnets.

Although most toys on the market are safe, thousands of children still suffer toy-related injuries every year.  While most of these toy-related injuries are minor, some can be severe or even fatal.  Choosing toys carefully, following the minimum age recommendations on toy packages and supervising your child will help assure that playtime is educational, fun, and most importantly, safe.  We want your children home with you, not here with us.  Have a happy, healthy and safe holiday season.

To help make sure the toys you give this holiday season are safe, follow these tips:

  • Avoid toys for young children that include small parts, which may cause choking.
  • Small parts test devices are available at many toy stores and baby specialty stores. If the part can fit in the tube, it is too small for a young child.
  • If you don’t have a small parts test device, test the toy with a toilet paper roll.
  • Ball, marbles and games with small balls or ball-shaped pieces that have a diameter of less than 1.75 inches should be avoided if there are young children in the house.
  • Magnetic toys can be very dangerous if swallowed. Keep these toys, even if they are for the adults in the home, out of homes with children.
  • Follow the age recommendations listed on the label to help determine if a toy is appropriate for the child’s age and abilities.
  • Check to make sure the toys have not been recalled by visiting www.recalls.gov.
  • Remember that is not just the toy, but the battery powering the toy that can be a danger.  Make sure that the battery case for toys given to children either requires a screwdriver to open or has a locking mechanism.
  • Think about these products and others as you visit other homes this holiday season.

For more tips and information on toy safety, click here.

Featured Expert

Tracy Mehan, MA
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Tracy Mehan is the manager of translational research for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

All Topics

Browse by Author

About this Blog

Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.