It was through this board that one mom that I've "known" for nearly two years posted that her baby had "died after a short illness." It was a shock to many of the other moms on the board and we were wondering what would cause her healthy baby to suddenly pass away. It turns out her baby had swallowed a "button" battery which caused him to suddenly get sick and die. After hearing her story, I thought that this had to be an isolated "freak" accident. Unfortunately, it is not and just doing a quick google search, I found that this tragedy has happened again and again and again. There were 18 fatal cases listed on the National Capital Poison Control Center website. Even the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning about button batteries back in 1983.
A study published in the June 2012 edition of the journal Pediatrics looked at "Pediatric Battery-Related Emergency Department Visits in the United States, 1990–2009." The study found that "an estimated 65,788 patients <18 years of age presented to US Emergency Departments (EDs) due to a battery-related exposure during the 20-year study period, averaging 3289 battery-related ED visits annually. The number and rate of visits increased significantly during the study period, with substantial increases during the last 8 study years. The mean age was 3.9 years, and 60.2% of patients were boys. Battery ingestion accounted for 76.6% of ED visits, followed by nasal cavity insertion (10.2%), mouth exposure (7.5%), and ear canal insertion (5.7%). Button batteries were implicated in 83.8% of patient visits caused by a known battery type."
How can a tiny button battery cause so much trouble? According to the National Capital Poison Control Center, "Most button batteries pass through the body and are eliminated in the stool. However, sometimes batteries get “hung up”, and these are the ones that cause problems. A battery that is stuck in the esophagus is especially likely to cause tissue damage. An electrical current can form around the outside of the battery, generating hydroxide (an alkaline chemical) and causing a tissue burn. When a battery is swallowed, it is impossible to know whether it will pass through or get 'hung up'." According to safekids.org, "Kids can still breathe with the coin lithium battery in their throats. It may not be obvious at first that something is wrong. Once burning begins, damage can continue even after the battery is removed."
A few of the stories mentioned above, the children died as a result of massive hemorrhage. In the case of the mother on my message board, the battery caused her child's intestines to erode which caused the contents of the intestines to spill into his abdominal cavity resulting in a massive infection.
What are you to do if you suspect your child has swallowed a battery? According to the National Capital Poison Control Center which operates a National Battery Ingestion Hotline:
"If anyone ingests a battery, this is what you should do:
- Immediately call the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333 (call collect if necessary), or call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222
- If readily available, provide the battery identification number, found on the package or from a matching battery.
- In most cases, an x-ray must be obtained right away to be sure that the battery has gone through the esophagus into the stomach. (If the battery remains in the esophagus, it must be removed immediately. Most batteries move on to the stomach and can be allowed to pass by themselves.) Based on the age of the patient and size of the battery, the National Battery Ingestion Hotline specialists can help you determine if an immediate x-ray is required.
- Don't induce vomiting. Don't eat or drink until the x-ray shows the battery is beyond the esophagus.
- Watch for fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, or blood in the stools. Report these symptoms immediately.
- Check the stools until the battery has passed.
- Your physician or the emergency room may call the National Button Battery Ingestion Hotline/National Capital Poison Center collect at 202-625-3333 for consultation about button batteries. Expert advice is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Button batteries are pretty ubiquitous these days which explains why the incidence of accidental battery ingestion is increasing. Since they're everywhere, I started looking around the house to make sure the batteries are secure from the prying hands and fingers of my toddler. Thankfully, many of the batteries today are encased in a compartment which is locked with a screw. Despite finding many batteries enclosed in a "sealed" compartment, there were a few that could be accessed simply by sliding the cover out of the way. It is with those electronic devices that I am most concerned about. I cannot be around my child 24/7 but I am trying my best to make sure the batteries are secured. In some of the cases that I have read about, the origin of the battery was unknown. It is the "unknown" sources of batteries that I do not even think about that worry me. All I can do is hope that most of the batteries are secured and inform my child's caregivers to be aware of the potential dangers of batteries.
Educating people about the hazards are key and families that have experienced first hand the dangers of button battery ingestion are trying to spread the word. Consumer Reports posted a video showing how a button battery, when left on a piece of ham for three days, burned a hole right through it. It also showed how singing greeting cards aimed at children, can have easily accessible button batteries. Energizer batteries also posted a video to educate parents about the hazards of button batteries which included a picture of an x-ray of a child with a button battery lodged in its throat.