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Swallowed battery hazards: ER visits double

Posted by on May. 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM
  • 8 Replies

Has this happened to anyone you know?  Scary and sad.



Swallowed battery hazards: ER visits double

By Linda Carroll

Every three hours a child shows up in a U.S.  emergency room with a battery that’s been swallowed or placed in the mouth, ears or nose,  a new study shows.

That number is almost double what it was 20 years ago, according to the report published in Pediatrics Monday.

The main culprits are “button batteries,” which account for almost 85 percent of the ER visits, researchers found. These coin-shaped batteries seem to be ubiquitous nowadays, turning up in a wide variety of electronic devices, from toys, to remote controls, to watches.

Although most kids seen by ER doctors are pronounced healthy and sent home, some of the newer batteries can cause serious damage if they lodge in the throat, says the study’s lead author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

When kids get 3-volt 20 mm lithium batteries lodged in their esophagus, the moisture there can spark a microcurrent, Smith explains.

“That will lead to cell death and eventually burn a hole right through the esophagus,” Smith says. “And that will lead to long term scarring and stricture. Even worse, there are some cases where it eroded right into the aorta and the child bled to death. These are horrific, horrific outcomes that need to be prevented.”

What’s especially scary is that this can all happen quickly.

“Serious damage can occur in less than two hours,” Smith says. “If parents have any suspicion that their child has swallowed a button battery – even if they’re not sure – they need to take the child immediately to the emergency room to get an X-ray to see if the button battery is stuck in the esophagus... This can’t wait till the next morning,” says Smith.

The new study is based on nationally representative data collected over a 20 year period (1990 to 2009) from approximately 100 U.S. hospitals. When the researchers extrapolated the results to include all U.S. hospitals, they determined that there were nearly 66,000 emergency department visits by children under age 18 for issues involving a battery.

While some children were brought to the emergency room for batteries that had been placed in the mouth, ear or nose, the vast majority came in because batteries had been swallowed. In most of those cases were in children who were 5 or younger.

Button batteries accounted for a full 84 percent of all battery-related ingestions in children younger than 18.

“The real high risk age group peaks around the second year of life,” Smith says. “They put things in their mouths as part of exploration and these batteries are easy to swallow.

While almost a third of the ingested batteries came from toys and games, the majority came from devices such as hearing aids, watches, calculators, remote controls and flashlights. That’s why Smith and his colleagues would like to see manufacturers designing battery compartments with child safety in mind. In the meantime, he says, parents should consider taping battery compartments closed so children can’t get to the batteries inside.

“We can do better,” Smith says. “And it’s not that difficult.”



by on May. 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM
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by on May. 14, 2012 at 9:39 AM
This has never happened to me. I keep all batteries in a container on top of our fridge.
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by on May. 14, 2012 at 10:01 AM

 OMG, I was just telling someone this story over the weekend.

When DS was probably 8 months old, he was going through the throwing the remote phase. The backs were constantly getting broken off and batteries rolling everywhere. So this happens one day, DH is sitting on the couch, DS is sitting on the floor next to him, playing. Remote goes flying, DH stands, turns his back on DS, to pick up battery #1, and then he cant find battery #2. He searches for about 30 minutes, getting more panicked each minute, and he finally wakes me from my nap.

Now, I'm pretty certain that my infant hasnt swallowed a AA battery. This is a kid who can barely swallow mashed bananas for cryin out loud. But DH's panic is starting to wear on me. My sister calls, I explain the situation to her, thinking this mother of 3 will be the voice of reason that I need to finally calm DH. Oh no. She FREAKS!! "OMG I saw this on 20/20 and the stomach acid will eat through the battery." and on and on. Alright we'll go to the ER (it's like 9:00 pm).

First we go to the regular ER right by our house. I'm still thinking, the first medical professional we explain this to, is going to laugh at us. Our infant didnt swallow a huge AA battery. Oh no, the nurse in the waiting room freaks out, and sends us directly to Childrens. Great. Traffic and road construction delay us. My 8 month old is getting fussy. Presumably because it's nearing 10:00pm, but to our ears it's the sound of battery acid slowly eating his intestines. (I've almost completely jumped on the panic bandwagon at this point.

We get to Childrens, they also think this is completely plausable, and rush us in past everyone else to X-ray. We wait, and wait, and wait. X-rays come back and we're escorted back to see the doctor.
She looks very concerned. "We'll we dont see anything on the X-ray, so can you tell me again what happened? Was this a watch battery?"
Oh no, a AA.
"Hmmm, so he was alone in the room?"
Oh no, dad was right there, he would have had about 1.5 seconds to swallow it while dad's back was turned. Bless her heart, she tried so hard not to laugh. I kept thinking, where was this skepticsm before I forked over $200 co-pay???

Long story short ~The battery was under the couch. Valuable lesson learned. My husband is now on the "I'll tell you when to panic" plan.

by on May. 14, 2012 at 10:44 AM

'Button' Batteries Sending More Kids to ER: Study

Emergency visits for accidental swallowing have doubled

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) -- Cases of children rushed to the emergency room after accidentally swallowing coin-sized batteries found in many household gadgets have doubled over the past two decades, new research reveals.

Serious complications -- including fatalities -- can arise when so-called "button batteries," found in items ranging from remote-control devices to children's toys, get lodged in the esophagus.

"The increase we're seeing is a call to action," said study lead author Dr. Gary A. Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "I've treated many of these children, and when it happens it's absolutely horrifying. 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."

The study appears online May 14 and in the June issue of Pediatrics.

The authors looked at U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System data concerning all battery-related visits to the ER among children up to age 18.

The data covered the years between 1990 and 2009, and though ER visits related to all types of batteries were tracked, the team noted that nearly 84 percent of such visits involved button-sized batteries.

Four different types of accidental contact with button batteries were tallied: swallowing and insertion of a battery into the mouth, ear, or nose.

The team found that over the 20-year period such contacts translated into nearly 66,000 ER visits, with a dramatic increase over the final eight years. Button batteries accounted for 2,785 ER visits by kids younger than 18 in 2009, up from 1,301 in 1990.

"In effect, the curve of ER cases is now swinging way up," Smith said, "which means the increase is increasing, so to speak. And this coincides with another very important factor, which is that when they are swallowed the risk is greater than ever because of the relatively recent introduction of 3-volt 20 mm lithium batteries. Button batteries used to be just 1.5 volts, so that means that these new batteries are much more powerful than their predecessors."

That means that although 92 percent of battery cases are successfully treated, the remainder face an ever-increasing risk for severe internal damage, Smith said. "When these increasingly powerful batteries stop in one spot in the esophagus they can create a little micro-current and burn a hole right through, causing very serious damage in less than two hours," he explained. "It can even burn into the aorta and cause a child to bleed to death."

Toddlers and others 5 years and younger faced the highest risk for accidental button-battery contact, with the average age of incoming ER patients just below 4 years.

Boys accounted for a bigger slice of the ER visits (about 60 percent), while most cases (nearly 77 percent) were the result of battery swallowing. Nose contact accounted for roughly 10 percent of cases, followed by mouth exposure (7.5 percent) and ear insertion (almost 6 percent).

"For parents, the message is that if they suspect that their child has swallowed a battery they need to get to the ER right away," Smith said. "And in terms of prevention, they need to store and dispose of batteries out of reach, and also tape all battery compartments shut."

"For manufacturers, what we really need is to have an overarching effort by the industry to make battery compartments inaccessible and child-resistant.," Smith added. "For all products. Not just toys. Because most were not coming from products intended for children. They were coming from remote controls. Flashlights."

Dr. Lee Sanders, an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., also expressed concern.

"Whenever we see a marked rise in any cause of injury for a child, it's concerning from a public-health standpoint," he said. "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. But of course we might have to also look at other causes, like changes in the actual reporting of cases that might have taken place as the system for reporting improves or the coding for reporting improves."

Sanders added that parents should heed the general advice regarding choking, especially for those 5 years and younger. "Children should never be unattended and they should never be within reach of any object that can fit through a choke tube, which is basically the cardboard tube of a toilet-paper roll," he said. This is particularly the case with objects not normally considered dangerous, such as children's toys that have batteries and other small parts, and various objects found in the kitchen or bathroom. "That's the best preventive strategy," he said.


I was just reading this, this morning.

by on May. 14, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Yep we see a lot of battery accidents in my Er too... also choking on bottle caps, and no helmet bike accidents......  I had a mother just last week lying to me telling me her 8 year old was wearing her helmet....the kids said she was not until her mother told her to change her story RIGHT in front of me!!  In anycase the injury could not have happened if she were indeed wearing a helmet....  that poor young girls life will NEVER be the same and her mother really should do jail time IMHO for being sooooo inadequate as a parent

by on May. 14, 2012 at 12:12 PM

That's so scary.  Thankfully the only small batteries in our house are in items with a screw on back - I know that's not a guarantee, but it does make me feel like they're a little less likely to get loose. 

by on May. 14, 2012 at 12:15 PM

all my batteriues are kept in my basement in a cupboard high up and my husband or I get any batteries if they are needed.

by on May. 14, 2012 at 3:06 PM
Thankfully no! How scary!
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by Sonja on May. 14, 2012 at 11:34 PM

 That's really scary!

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