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Posted Mar 06 2010 12:00am

          I am so glad my boys are raised.  Just when you think your home is safe – all chemicals, cleaners, etc. locked up nicely in the cupboards – there is yet another thing you haven’t thought of – button batteries!  Parents need to beware of these little monsters; they can do a lot of damage if swallowed or put in an ear or nose.  I was watching CBS news a few mornings ago and they had a short segment on button batteries and how they can damage the stomach, esophagus and other organs if swallowed.  In addition, small children will stick them right into an ear or a nose.  Why the problem?  Because it is not just a choking hazard, but it is also the fact that when these batteries are exposed to moisture (like when they’re swallowed) they leak acid and send out an electrical current.  Sometimes you get lucky and the battery just passes through, but other times it gets stuck, damaging the tissue and making the child sick.  In fact, ten percent of children who swallow button batteries die.

          Button (or disc) batteries power a variety of products in the home, including hearing aids, watches, calculators, key chains, scales, small toys, musical greeting cards, pacemakers, television remote controls, thermometers, car alarm remote controls and probably some that I am not thinking of.  Button batteries range in diameter from 6mm to 23mm, with most being less than 15mm.  Because of their small size they can easily be mistaken for pills or candy.  Most pediatricians tell us that ingested batteries can be extremely dangerous for three different reasons:

• The battery itself can block the airway or the intestinal tract
• Batteries contain alkali, which can corrode tissues
• The voltage generated by the battery can cause a burn.

It should also be noted that batteries lodged in the esophagus can cause severe burns in just two hours.  Within six hours, the battery can eat through the esophagus or the organ it is lodged against and within eight to 10 hours, it can cause death.  Symptoms in children include refusing to take fluids, an increase in salivation, vomiting and abdominal tenderness.  However, it is possible that patients may not have symptoms at all.  Experts warn to give your child ipecac if he or she has swallowed a battery.  

          In a paper presented at the 2009 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation Annual Meeting in San Diego, researchers revealed that a significant lack of knowledge about the dangers of button batteries exists in the lay population and in healthcare providers.  While many children who ingest button batteries recover with few long-term health issues, some develop long-term complications that significantly deteriorate quality of life, such as tracheostomy-tube or gastrostomy-tube dependence, vocal paralysis and septal perforation with saddle nose deformity.  The authors say expeditious identification and treatment of button battery ingestion is crucial, for which continuing education must be provided to pediatricians, primary care, urgent care, emergency room care providers and otolaryngologists.  Further, the study concluded that increased public awareness is necessary to diminish the incidence of such ingestions.  Industry changes, including improved packaging and button battery markings, will also be fundamental to this process.

          The injury from button batteries is real.  Beware of young children and pets that are not able to realize the dangers of battery ingestion.  Unfortunately, the incidence of battery ingestion has increased as use of button batteries in household products has also increased.  In the United States, nearly 3,000 people of ages unintentionally swallow these batteries each year, according to the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, DC.  Sixty-two percent of battery ingestions involve children under the age of 5, with a peak incidence in 1- and 2-year-olds.  So take yet another look around your house for anything that has lights or makes noises and think about where it’s getting its power from.  Then get it out of reach of little ones, or secure the battery cover so that kids can’t open it up.

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