Just about every home has them. They are button batteries that run everything from cameras, weight scales, calculators, remote controls, and flashlights. They are just the right size for your little one to swallow or put up their nose. If ingested, these small batteries can cause serious injury to a child such as chocking, burns and even death.
An estimated 40,400 kids under 13 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for battery-related injuries from 1997 to 2010, according to an analysis just out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The findings appear in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Three-quarters of injuries happened in kids 4 and under.
Most of the children were treated and released but 10% needed hospitalization and 14 battery-related deaths were also reported. 58% of the injuries were related to button batteries when the battery type was known.
In a May 2010 study, reported in the journal Pediatrics, researchers noted that there was an increase in emergency room visits related to button batteries from 1990 to 2009. The 20-year study revealed that there were about 66,000 battery-related emergency room visits. Small battery related injuries nearly doubled in that time period in children under the age of 18.
Battery consumption symptoms involve vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea, respiratory distress and dysphagia or difficulty swallowing. This makes it especially hard to diagnose what the problem is, especially if the caregiver didn't see the child consume the battery.
What makes the small items so dangerous, however, is that they can cause serious burns due to a buildup of the chemical hydroxide in just two hours, according to WebMD. They can also leak a corrosive chemical called alkaline electrolyte. Researchers identified the 3-volt lithium, coin-size batteries that are less than or equal to 20 mm as the most common culprit.
“Because delays in diagnosis and treatment can lead to serious complications and death,” the report’s authors wrote, “children suspected of having ingested a battery should get prompt medical attention. It is also important to recognize that children might be reluctant or unable to say that they ingested a battery or gave one to a sibling.”
The report said some safety standards are in place, but more could be done. In 2008 federal safety standards for toys included making batteries unreachable by putting them, for instance, in screwed-in compartments.
Not only are children swallowing button batteries but there has also been an increase in senior adults swallowing them. Some of these older adults have mistaken the batteries, sometimes used in hearing aids, for pills.
The United Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) offers a list of button battery precautions parents can take.
- Discard button batteries carefully.
- Do not allow children to play with button batteries, and keep button batteries out of your child's reach.
- Caution hearing aid users to keep hearing aids and batteries out of the reach of children.
- Never put button batteries in your mouth for any reason as they are easily swallowed accidentally.
- Always check medications before ingesting them. Adults have swallowed button batteries mistaken for pills or tablets.
- Keep remotes and other electronics out of your child's reach if the battery compartments do not have a screw to secure them. Use tape to help secure the battery compartment.
- If a button battery is ingested, immediately seek medical attention.
There is a National Battery Ingestion Hotline available at (202) 625-333, or you can call your poison center at (800) 222-1222.
These batteries are small and easy to overlook. Make sure that you treat them like any other product that you wouldn’t want your child playing with.