When swallowed, button cell batteries can badly burn a child’s throat

Click to play video: 'The symptoms and deadly consequences of children swallowing button batteries'
The symptoms and deadly consequences of children swallowing button batteries
One doctor said in one week, she removed three button batteries lodged in the esophagus of babies and toddlers. – Jan 9, 2018

It’s shiny, small, and for some infants, good enough to eat.

Button cell batteries can be found in everything from holiday greeting cards to children’s books to remote controls, but when swallowed, these batteries can be hazardous to a child’s health.

Last week, pediatric gastroenterologist Lissy de Ridder in the Netherlands, tweeted an X-ray of a button cell battery stuck in an infant’s esophagus.

“Removed [three] disc batteries only this week, stuck in esophagus of babies and toddlers. Damage is severe and lifelong in one of them. Truly individual and societal disaster. Parents, be warned,” she wrote on the social media site.

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The incidence of button battery injuries has been on the rise, as these smooth, shiny objects can look particularly inviting for a child to put in their mouth,” says Dr. Nikolaus Wolter, a staff otolaryngologist at SickKids Hospital in Toronto.

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Most ingested batteries come directly from the product, he adds, but other cases are caused when parents leave these batteries out for children to grab.

“20mm 3V batteries can be the most problematic as they are bigger and therefore more likely to get stuck in the esophagus. Even batteries that appear to be spent can contain enough energy to cause a serious injury.”

Pamela Fuselli, vice-president, knowledge transfer and stakeholder relations of Parachute Canada, an organization that works towards preventing injuries, says the exposure of button cell batteries is very high.

“In the U.S., button batteries were involved in 84 per cent of all battery-related emergency room visits for which a battery type was identified,” she tells Global News.

Risks involved

Fuselli adds when a button cell battery gets stuck in a child’s throat, it can affect the child’s breathing.

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“But the saliva triggers an electrical current that causes a chemical reaction that can burn the esophagus. It can happen within two hours. This damage can continue even after the battery is removed.”

Smaller batteries can also be inserted into the ears and nose, Wolters adds, and while these types of insertions do not present the same level of emergency, they can still cause serious damage.

“The risks of swallowing a button battery are erosion of the esophagus and important structures that surround the esophagus such as the windpipe, aorta, and spine, which can all be life-threatening injuries,” he tells Global News.

“These injuries occur when the battery becomes lodged in one place and slowly discharges whatever battery acid it has left into the surrounding tissues. In the long-term, scarring of the esophagus can lead to a narrowing that may impair swallowing.”

Signs to look out for

And because some of the batteries are easily accessible, Fuselli says some parents may not even know if their child ingested a battery.

READ MORE: Mother warns about the danger of batteries after toddler nearly dies

The symptoms may be tricky to recognize, she adds, but can include coughing, drooling and discomfort. Wolter says pain in the throat or chest is also common and a child may later develop a fever or start coughing up blood.

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“But they may not show any signs, so if you have even the smallest doubt, don’t take any chances. Go to the emergency room right away,” Fuselli says.

She adds parents shouldn’t induce vomiting or have the child eat or drink anything until they are assessed by a medical professional.

Prevention tips

Health Canada says before you give your child any toy to play with, make sure you understand what the batteries look like.

Button cell batteries are found in everything from hearing aids to light-up jewelry to key chains. “Look for products with battery compartments that prevent easy access. For example, screw-closed compartments are harder to access than those that simply slide to open,” the site adds.

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Parents should also supervise their children if they are playing with toys with these types of batteries and never allow toddlers to play with them on their own.

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