A TikTok trend which involves using tiny magnets as fake tongue piercings has prompted the NHS to call for the metal balls to be banned amid a rise in people swallowing them.
The viral prank has people placing a magnetic ball on either side of their tongue and wiggling them around to create the illusion that the piercing is real.
Ingesting more than one magnet can be life-threatening and cause significant damage within hours, as the balls are forced together in the intestines or bowels, squeezing tissue and cutting off blood supply.
At least 65 children have been admitted to hospital in England for urgent surgery in the last three years after swallowing magnets, leading the NHS to issue a patient-safety alert earlier this month.
Prof Simon Kenny, paediatric surgeon and national clinical director for children and young people at NHS England, wants the magnets – which are widely sold as creative toys – to be banned.
He said: “There is nothing fun for children or their parents about surgery to remove magnets that have been swallowed and become stuck together through different parts of the intestines, or the long-term physical problems and internal scarring that can be left behind.
“I would urge parents to be aware of the dangers associated with magnetic toys, but ultimately the only way we can prevent future incidents is to stop these items being sold.”
According to the NHS, there has been a rise in hospital admissions among older children as teenagers take part in the online craze.
Unlike traditional magnets, the tiny balls, which are less than 6mm in diameter, are highly magnetic and can be easily swallowed.
Natasha Crookes, the director of communications at the British Toy & Hobby Association, said: “The law should change to classify these types of products as toys so they have to meet strict toy-safety regulations.
“That would mean a change in design to ensure the magnets are covered by a casing too large to swallow.”
Eighteen-month-old twins Louie and Jesse Houlden both ingested several magnets that had been bought as toys for their older siblings.
A scan revealed that Louie had swallowed 23 magnets which closed into a loop in his intestines and required emergency surgery at Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge.
Jesse had swallowed four magnets and needed keyhole surgery to remove them.
Both boys have since recovered.
The NHS has urged people not to wait for symptoms if magnets are swallowed and said they should seek help at A&E immediately.