Effingham, Il – An often overlooked danger hides among the festive holiday decorations, new toys, and everyday household items.
Small in size and shiny in appearance, button or disc batteries power various objects that are often left within reach of children and infants. These batteries can seem appealing to curious youngsters, but if they’re swallowed, holiday joy can turn to terror in an instant.
Dr. Timothy Barron, chief of emergency medicine at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in northern Virginia, said he sees at least three cases of children swallowing button batteries each year – most of which occur around the holidays. Ingesting button batteries, which are made of lithium, alkaline, or silver oxide, can lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening consequences.
“As toys continue to get smaller, it’s important to be mindful of the dangers these batteries can impose on families,” said Barron.
“When they come out, they’re the size of a skittle or less. A kid doesn’t know any better than to go, ‘Oh, what’s this?’ and it’s shiny and it’s metal and they throw it in their mouth.”
These batteries can be found in a number of everyday household items and small toys, such as games, calculators, holiday ornaments, greeting cards, remote controls, and key fobs.
The batteries are often stacked two or three per item, don’t live long, and can easily fall out, said Barron.
Since the esophagus is not equipped to handle a high level of acid, the situation can become serious quickly, said Barron.
If it sits in the esophagus for even a little bit of time, the battery starts to erode, making the tube swell. Swelling can prevent the battery from progressing to the stomach and cause it to embed in the area, almost like a tick, he added. When it embeds into that tissue, it’ll continue to erode and burn, possibly making a hole in the esophagus.
“It can be taken care of quickly, but it is a significant life threat because if you have any erosion through the esophagus, the tissues in and around your heart, lungs, and great vessels get inflamed, and that is a significant threat,” said Barron. If a hole appears in the esophagus, children may have to endure surgery, feeding tubes, or other corrective processes.
“Our kids are the healthiest people on the planet. If batteries can cause that kind of damage to them, this is a huge worry.”
Swelling from button batteries can be painful and cause children to stop eating or drinking because of pain, said Barron.
If the batteries are swallowed and pass through to the stomach without getting stuck, children are usually able to pass them through and excrete them without issue or long-term consequences, he added.
This is because the stomach is equipped to handle high levels of acid.
“Once it’s through to the stomach, we’ll still watch them and ask parents to monitor their stool for the next 24-48 hours, and bring them back in a timely fashion to x-ray them again and make sure it has passed,” said Barron.
If a child swallows a button battery, Barron encourages parents to immediately seek medical attention at the closest emergency department.
The Military Health System’s Nurse Advice Line is also available 24/7 as a source of information on urgent care needs.
Actively watching children as they play with new toys and household items, keeping batteries out of reach, and making sure batteries are discarded immediately and properly is highly recommended, said Barron.
“What appears to be an everyday item can be incredibly dangerous,” said Barron.
Courtesy of the United States Military Health System