Swallowing 'button batteries' can lead to serious injuries or death

September 30, 2011, Vanderbilt Medical Center

(Medical Xpress) -- Small, coin-sized batteries can cause serious health problems and can even lead to death if swallowed by children, and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt wants to educate parents and caregivers on the issue.

In the past six years, 11 children nationwide have died after swallowing “button batteries,” which can be found in remote controls, calculators, watches, key chains, bathroom scales and musical greeting cards.

Emergency doctors at Children’s Hospital encounter these cases regularly. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), studies have found that button battery-related incidents resulting in severe injury and fatality have increased sevenfold since 1985. The National Capital Poison Center said more than 3,500 swallowing cases are reported each year in the U.S.

Thomas Abramo, M.D., director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, says these batteries can become lodged in a child’s esophagus and can cause significant problems within just a few hours after they are swallowed.

“Unlike the stomach, which has protective layers, the lining of the esophagus is very vulnerable,” says Abramo. “The electricity from the battery can cause erosion and burns, and can lead to bleeding and other major problems.”

He says it’s important for parents and caregivers to immediately seek medical assistance if a child is suspected of swallowing a disc-like battery.

Children’s Hospital works closely with the national advocacy group Safe Kids USA, and supports its recent awareness campaign with Energizer, “The Battery Controlled,” to help prevent these injuries.

Below are some tips to prevent button battery injuries provided by the CPSC:

• Safely discard button batteries.

• Do not allow children to play with button batteries, and keep them out of your child's reach.

• Caution hearing aid users to keep hearing aids and batteries out of the reach of children.

• 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. The National Battery Ingestion Hotline is available anytime at (202) 625-3333 (call collect if necessary), or call your poison center at (800) 222-1222.

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