ER Visits From ‘Button’ Battery Swallowing Double

By Amir Khan on May 14, 2012 4:35 PM EDT

Button Batteries
The number of children who are brought to the ER after swallowing a button battery has doubled in the past two decades, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

The number of children being brought into the ER after swallowing coin-sized button batteries found in many household electronics has doubled over the past two decades, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

Researchers looked at the incidence of ER visits related to children swallowing any kind of battery and found that between 1990 and 2009, 65,000 children had a battery-related ER visit. The rate nearly doubled between that time, increasing from four kids per 100,000 yearly to between seven and eight kids per 100,000. Over 80 percent of the ER visits were due to the button batteries, researchers said.

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"They're shiny, they're small, and children explore things developmentally with their mouth -- if they don't know what something is, they put it in their mouth," Dr. Nicholas Slamon, a pediatrciain at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware who was not involved in the study, told Reuters.

The researchers said the study serves as a call to action, and said parents and manufacturers need to be more aware of the large risk the small batteries pose.

"I've treated many of these children, and when it happens it's absolutely horrifying," Dr. Gary Smith, study author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, told HealthDay. "So while we've always respected the dangers these batteries pose, now it's really time for us to redouble our efforts to warn parents and work with manufacturers to take steps against this risk."

Swallowed batteries can cause harm in several ways, researchers said. They can become lodged in the throat and suffocate the child or they could leak acid, permanently damaging vocal cords. Most dangerously, the battery can create an electrical current in the esophagus and burn through the tissue, which is fatal.

"Whenever we see a marked rise in any cause of injury for a child, it's concerning from a public-health standpoint," Dr. Lee Sanders, an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., who was not involved in the study, told HealthDay. "So we need to investigate the root cause of this doubling. One possibility is that there is, in fact, increased exposure to button batteries themselves."

Dr. Toby Litovitz, executive and medical director of the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C, who was not involved in the study, told ABC News that the small batteries are found in everyday objects such as remotes, scales and calculators.

"[Parents] be vigilant and look at every product at home to see if it has a battery compartment that can be opened by the child and [if so, make sure it is] secured with heavy tape," he said. "If not, it needs to be treated like a medication -- up high, out of reach and locked up."

Parents also need to be on the lookout for symptoms of battery swallowing, such as drooling and vomiting. If you suspect your child has swallowed a battery bring them to the emergency room.

"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," Smith told Reuters. "We've seen children in less than two hours have severe, severe injuries from button batteries getting caught in the esophagus."

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