Button batteries can be deadly for kids
Every three hours, a child in the U.S. is treated in an emergency department after swallowing a button battery. And the number of serious injuries or deaths caused by these tiny, shiny silver batteries that power many everyday devices has increased nine-fold in the past decade.
The batteries are a serious threat to children because they generate a current that produces small amounts of sodium hydroxide, which is lye. If the battery gets stuck somewhere in the body, the lye burns a hole at that spot. Serious injury and illness, long-term disability or even death can result.
Cape Cod Healthcare pediatric hospitalist Janelle C. Laudone, MD said there are several things you can do to prevent and treat button batter ingestion.
If you suspect that a child has swallowed something, you need to get them to the hospital emergency department without delay, she said.
“In just two hours after ingestion, damage can occur,” said Dr. Laudone, who is chief of Pediatrics at Cape Cod Hospital. “Don’t delay getting the child to the ER, because we find that the length of time the battery remains ingested correlates with various injuries.”
If your child has swallowed one of these coin-shaped batteries within the past 12 hours, give two teaspoons of honey , as long as he or she is over age of 12 months and can swallow liquids, she advised. Don’t give the child honey if they are already having symptoms such as coughs, trouble breathing or drooling, and don’t delay getting to the hospital by going out and buying honey.
Once at the ER, Dr. Laudone said the child may receive medicine similar to honey and get an X-ray from the mouth to and including the gastrointestinal tract to locate the battery. Then, the physician will develop a treatment plan based on where the battery is located.
“Batteries can get stuck in a child’s esophagus, which is the tube going from the mouth to the stomach,” she said. “Esophageal and surrounding tissues can be damaged. You can get a hole or perforation in the esophagus, or you can end up with scarring that could lead to complications in the future.
“The medical team will plan for removal of the battery. Typically, this is done by a pediatric specialist and depends on the location of the battery. A pediatric gastroenterologist or pediatric ear/nose/throat doctor could perform the surgery. It’s likely the patient would be transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital for treatment in this case,” she said.
New Boston Children’s Hospital Affiliation
As of July 2021, Cape Cod Hospital (CCH) is now affiliated with Boston Children’s Hospital which is ranked the #1 children’s hospital in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. This collaboration means CCH is part of the world-renowned network and has quick access to their pediatric specialists. All of Cape Cod Hospital’s pediatric hospitalists are now jointly employed by CCH and Boston Children’s Hospital.
“This means we have direct lines to sub-specialists at Boston Children’s Hospital,” said Dr. Laudone. “Our goal is to keep as many patients as is appropriate here on the Cape, for the convenience of patients and their families. The new affiliation means we have sub-specialty consultation support from Boston Children’s here on the Cape, and we also have a direct way to transfer children quickly if they need care in Boston.
“It’s an exciting new change that will benefit patients, their families, and our physicians.”
Ears and Noses are Also Battery-Free Zones.
Swallowing button batteries is not the only danger to children, explained Dr. Laudone. They can also cause permanent injury when placed in the nose or the ears, Dr. Laudone said. She warns parents and caregivers to be aware of the serious damage that can occur if batteries (or other items) are pushed into the nasal passage or ear canal.
If you suspect a battery is lodged in the nose or ear, the child needs to be examined by a doctor without delay.
“Being aware of where the button batteries are in your home is the best way to prevent swallowing injuries,” she said.
She pointed to the following American Academy of Pediatrics list of some of the most common devices which contain button and lithium coin batteries:
- Remote controls
- Games and toys
- Hearing aids
- Bathroom scales
- Key fobs
- Holiday ornaments
- Small flashlights
- Watches and electronic jewelry
- Flashing shoes and clothing
- Flameless candles
- Musical greeting cards
Ideally, you should need a tool to open the battery compartment on a device, Dr. Laudone said. This makes it safer for children, so they can’t easily access and swallow dangerous batteries.
If you have extra batteries, she advises that you lock them away where children can’t get them.
“When replacing button batteries, immediately discard the used batteries,” she said. “Even dead batteries, if ingested, still contain a charge and can cause physical damage.”
The safest way to dispose of used batteries, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org website, is wrap them in tape and promptly recycle or put them in an outside garbage can.