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Parents are well aware that young children love to explore their environment. Unfortunately, a common component of that exploration involves young children putting objects they find in their mouth.
While every parent knows this, parents aren't always aware that there can be serious hidden dangers in seemingly innocent-looking common household objects. Many electronic devices, such as remote controls, flameless candles, watches and bathroom scales, are powered by small coin-shaped batteries also known as button batteries. While a space efficient source of power, these button batteries can cause serious harm when accidentally ingested by a young child.
There are more than 3,500 cases of children swallowing button batteries reported to U.S. poison control centers every year, and the number of serious injuries or deaths related to button batteries has increased nine-fold in the last decade. Children under the age of five are at highest risk for accidentally swallowing and injury related to button batteries. Numerous injuries and deaths related to this problem led the Consumer Product Safety Commission to call for the electronics industry and battery producers to develop warning labels and stronger industry safety standards.
Why are button batteries so dangerous?
The most serious injuries are associated with batteries that are 20 millimeters in diameter or about the size of a nickel. When ingested, these button batteries are more likely to become lodged within a small child's esophagus. Due to how these batteries are designed, they react with secretions within the esophagus to discharge an electrical current that creates a compound called hydroxide. This hydroxide causes a caustic alkaline burn injury that damages the lining of the esophagus.
Serious injury can occur in as little as two hours and the battery has the potential to burn a hole through the esophagus and can damage surrounding structures such as the airway and major blood vessels. Unfortunately, these injuries can cause life-long complications and even death. Beyond esophageal injury, button batteries can also cause tissue injury when lodged in the nose or ear canal.
Children that have ingested a button battery can exhibit symptoms such as wheezing, drooling, belly or chest pain, coughing, gagging, or choking. The symptoms can be severe or the child may have very minor symptoms or none at all. If a parent suspects that their child has ingested a button battery, it is important to take the child to the nearest pediatric emergency department. Safe removal can be difficult and potentially hazardous. Pediatric specialists and physicians with specialized expertise are often needed for consultation.
Parents and anyone caring for young children should take steps to keep them safe from accidentally swallowing a battery, including:
Make sure spare button batteries are in a spot out of reach of children
Check all devices with batteries to make sure the battery cover is securely attached
Immediately dispose of used button batteries
Never allow a child to play with any button batteries