Household batteries, especially the little button batteries that are powering more and more toys, remote controls, and other common devices, are sending nearly twice as many children to the Emergency Room than they did 20 years ago, according to a new study.
The small coin and pill-shaped batteries present multiple serious risks to the children who swallow them, but the most dangerous scenario is when the battery becomes trapped in the esophagus and creates an electrical current through the tissue. Even batteries that are too spent to power their intended devices are a serious health risk to children, medical experts warn.
“If a child swallows a button battery, the parent might not see it happen and the child might not have symptoms initially — and the clock is ticking,” Dr. Gary Smith, head of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and one of the study’s authors told Reuters Health.
“We’ve seen children in less than two hours have severe, severe injuries from button batteries getting caught in the esophagus,” he told Reuters Health.
Susan Sadaskus of Powell, Ohio, told Reuters Health she baby-proofed her home from top to bottom to protect her 15-month-old son Max. But it wasn’t until a rarely used remote control turned up without its battery casing that the dangers of common household batteries became a concern.
Mrs. Sadaskus told Reuters she wasn’t even sure if the remote had had a battery in it. At dinner, however, when Max wasn’t able to keep down any food or liquids, she and her husband decided to take Max to the ER. Doctors there found the battery lodged in Max’s esophagus and he was rushed to emergency surgery to remove it.
“Surgeons weren’t sure if they got the battery out early enough to prevent damage – but a year and a half later Max doesn’t suffer any complications,” Reuters reported.
Even the weakest of batteries that become stuck in the throat can create an electrical current through the tissue and burn a hole in the trachea or esophagus, the study’s researchers explain. Another fear is that the battery can leak acid if its casing is eroded.
The study analyzed data from 100 U.S. hospital emergency rooms. Researchers estimated that 65,000 kids under age 18 visited the ER for battery-related incidents and injuries from 1990 to 2009. Most of those kids were younger than 5. During the study period, battery injuries among this age group doubled from about four kids per 100,000 to 7-8 kids per 100,000.
“We really are diligent in making sure those button batteries are not in our house, or if they are in our house, they’re secure,” Mrs. Sadaskus told Reuters Health, adding that she throws out any musical greeting cards her son receives and makes sure he can’t get his hands on any other items containing the little batteries.