The Dangers of Children Swallowing Batteries

Introduction

My wife and I have two sons. When they were young, we worried about many things. One of those things was them swallowing small things. We taught them never to put batteries in their mouth. I do not remember teaching them not to swallow a battery. After our sons were grown, I occasionally heard of children swallowing batteries. Many of these children sustained severe injuries. These cases are concerned enough for me to do a little research and write this blog post to identify the hazards and provide solutions to the dangers.

Hazards and Dangers

How often does this happen? Katrina Woznicki (2016) tells us that “research shows there has been a significant increase in both button and cylindrical battery ingestions, particularly among children, and that the batteries that are lodged in the esophagus must be removed within two hours to prevent serious injuries, including tissue tears, burning, and internal bleeding.” I was shocked when I first heard that this was a growing trend. I still cannot imagine a child would swallow a battery.

Michelle Castillo (2017) explains that “Button batteries are blamed for an uptick in emergency room visits, study finds.” That makes sense to me because button batteries are tiny and I can see how a child could swallow them where the other sizes of batteries seem too large to swallow. However, I am wrong. Michell Castillo (2017) goes on to explain that “From 1997 to 2010, approximately 40,000 emergency room visits for children under age 13 were due to the consumption of batteries. In the cases where the battery was identified (69 percent), more than half of them – 58 percent –  were button batteries.” I would never have guessed that swallowing batteries would send 40,000 to the emergency room. Apparently, this is a severe problem. The key here is that children will ingest any battery, but over half will likely ingest a button battery. Button batteries seem to be in a wide variety of devices, which probably makes it easier for a child to get hold of them.

I was shocked to read in Michell Castillo’s (2017) article that “Fourteen of the cases, which involved kids from 7 months to 3 years, were fatal. There were 12 cases where they knew the battery type involved was the small, coin-sized batteries.” It had not occurred to me that swallowing a battery would be fatal.

One of the dangers of swallowing a battery is that they “get stuck in the esophagus…where saliva triggers an electric current which causes a chemical reaction that can severely burn the esophagus in as little as two hours” (Children’s, 2017).

The National Capital Poison Control Center (2017) also says that children can and do place button batteries in their nose and ears. They go on to say that the symptoms to watch for include pain and or discharge from the nose or ear.

Solutions

It is essential to get the word out about this hazard. I was an uninformed parent you do not want to be. Katrina Woznicki (2016) highlights the resolution as “Researchers also call on manufacturers to create child-resistant measures to secure the battery compartment on everyday household products and create industry standards that would require warning labels to help reduce battery ingestion.”

Safe Kids Worldwide also offers tips on their website. I encourage you to go there and review them. The URL is https://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/batteries. I have highlighted the Safe Kids Worldwide (2017) tips here:

  • “Keep coin lithium battery-controlled devices out of sight and reach of children” (Safe Kids, 2017).
  • “Keep loose batteries locked away or prevent small children from accessing the battery” (Safe Kids, 2017).
  • “Share this life-saving information” (Safe Kids, 2017).
  • “If you suspect your child has ingested a battery, go to the hospital immediately” (Safe Kids, 2017).

You can call the National Capital Poison Center at (800) 498-8666. There is even a National Battery Ingestion Hotline at (202) 625-3333 (Safe, 2017).

For a button battery stuck in the nose or ear, the National Capital Poison Control Center (2017) recommends taking the child to a doctor. They also recommend not using “nose or ear drops until the child has been examined by a physician, as these fluids can cause additional injury if a battery is involved.” These drops produce the same effect as saliva in the esophagus. They may trigger an electric current causing a chemical reaction that can severely burn the nose or ear.

Summary

I am glad that neither of my sons ever swallowed a battery let alone a button battery. We could have been lucky. The danger from swallowing batteries is real and can even cause death. Experts say the this is a growing problem and all the information that I see supports that. If you have a child, you know they will stick almost anything in their mouth, nose, and ears. It is crucial that parents prevent children from putting batteries, especially button batteries, of all kinds in their mouth, nose, and ears.  It should only take a minute or two to pass this information on to caregivers, friends, family members, and sitters. Take the time because your effort may prevent an injury or even save a child’s life.

References

Woznicki, Katrina. WebMD, Swallowing Batteries a Growing Risk for Kids. Retrieve on December 9, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/children/news/20100524/swallowing-of-batteries-a-growing-risk-for-kids#1.

Castillo, Michelle. CBS News, Most fatal child battery swallowing accidents due to tiny batteries. Retrieved on December 9, 2017, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/most-fatal-child-battery-swallowing-accidents-due-to-tiny-batteries/.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Lithium Button Batteries. Retrieved on December 9, 2017, from http://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/kohls-injury-prevention-program/lithium-button-batteries.

Safe Kids Worldwide. Batteries. Retrieved on December 9, 2017, from https://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/batteries.

Poison Control (National Capital Poison Center). Swallowed a Button Battery? Battery in the Nose or Ear?  Retrieved on December 9, 2017, from https://www.poison.org/battery.

About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning currently writes biweekly on his blog fredefanningauthor.com. His published works include the peer-reviewed book Basic Safety Administration-A Handbook for the New Safety Specialist. Fred also authored two editions of the peer-reviewed chapter Safety Training and Documentation Principles that was published in the bestselling Safety Professional Handbook and the Safety Professional Handbook Management Applications. He coauthored the peer-reviewed chapter Safety Training with Christine Fiori, Ph.D., PE, published in the bestselling Construction Safety Management and Engineering, second edition edited by Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP. Fred also has several self-published books. He has a series called Fred’s Safety Shorts. This is a collection of twelve books on topics related to safety published with Kindle Direct Publishing. Fred self-published another six books using both CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform and Kindle Direct Publishing. He has authored fifty-eight articles in various publications on the topics of safety and health and project management. Fred has earned several writing awards for his non-fiction work. Fred has two novels A Walk Among the Dead and Mystery at Devil’s Elbow.
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