Remote controls, key fobs, greeting cards, kitchen scales, tea light candles, watches, toys, and hearing aids – you name it; most modern electrically-controlled devices use button batteries. Additionally, there has been a startling increase in cases where these batteries end up in children’s bodies, where they cause pain, harm, and occasionally even death.
While most button battery ingestions are harmless and cause no harm, the incidence of fatal or seriously harmful battery ingestions has sharply increased in recent years. Even in cases where individuals swallow a battery and initially experience no symptoms, severe esophageal or airway burns and later consequences have been documented.
Poison control centers across the United States report that about 3,500 button batteries are swallowed yearly. Children who had swallowed batteries between 2010 and 2019 visited emergency rooms more than twice as often as they did between 1990 and 2009, according to a report that appeared in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics. According to the study “Pediatric Battery-Related Emergency Department Visits in the United States: 2010-2019,” button batteries, commonly referred to as coin batteries, were used in 85% of the cases where the battery was mentioned.
What happens when a battery is swallowed
In many cases, the battery passes through the intestines and exits the body safely. However, this is not always the case. Batteries that get lodged in the esophagus, mainly in young children, can have these terrible consequences. Most of these significant incidents involve large diameter button batteries, particularly 20 mm diameter lithium coin cells; however other battery types and smaller button batteries may also become stuck and result in serious issues. Batteries should be removed from the esophagus within two hours to prevent burns and potentially fatal complications.
If the patient is still asymptomatic, batteries outside the esophagus can typically be left past on their own. Small batteries have also been known to cause serious issues when inserted into the nose or ear, making removal necessary as soon as possible.
What should parents do?
The key is to prevent. Avoid installing or changing batteries in front of young children since they are drawn to flashy objects. Replace any expired batteries, and dispose of any expired ones properly and far away from minors. Consider purchasing items with battery compartments that can only be opened with a screwdriver or other specialized instrument or have a child-safe closing. Use sturdy tape, at the very least, to keep the compartment tightly closed against small hands.
Verify that the battery compartment is securely closed on all household appliances. Use strong tape to secure compartments that kids can open or pop open. Only buy items whose battery compartments need a screwdriver or other instrument to unlock them or whose locks are designed to prevent children from opening them.
If you suspect your child has ingested a battery, go to the emergency room immediately and quickly make them aware of your situation. Don’t induce vomiting or have your child eat or drink anything until assessed by a medical professional.