July 22, 2013 by

Button batteries can be found in a variety of electronic devices. Things like wristwatches, calculators, toys, and even recorded birthday cards all use button batteries. Unfortunately, their small size means that they can be easily swallowed by children.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have singled out button batteries as the most harmful type of battery for young children if swallowed. They can get stuck in the esophagus, leading to serious injury, and are the leading cause of death by ingestion. Poison control centers across the United States report that about 3,500 button batteries are swallowed each year.

The symptoms of battery ingestion include vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and swallowing.

Many times, swallowed batteries pass through the intestines and safely exit the body. This is not always the case, however, as they can easily get lodged in the esophagus. Batteries stuck in the throat cause an electric current and can leak corrosive chemicals, like alkaline electrolyte, that can cause internal damage.

When this happens, a buildup of the chemical hydroxide may occur, causing dangerous burns within a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the damage caused can remain long after the battery is removed.

If your child ingests a battery, Boys Town Pediatrics recommends:

  • Calling the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 1-202-625-3333 or contacting the poison center at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Gathering the battery identification number, if you have it, found on the package or from a matching battery.
  • Contacting the child’s doctor. An x-ray may be needed 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. Most batteries move on to the stomach and can be allowed to pass by themselves.
  • Watching for fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, or blood in the stool or vomit.
  • Checking the stools until the battery has passed.
  • Don’t induce vomiting and don’t allow your child to eat or drink until the x-ray shows the battery is beyond the esophagus.
  • Swallowing batteries is dangerous. Search your home for devices that may contain button batteries. Secure button battery-controlled devices out of reach of children, and keep loose batteries locked away.

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