Each year American children ingest 3,000 button batteries. It is estimated that every three hours another child is in an Emergency Room for a battery-related issue.
Button batteries are small and shiny. This makes them especially appealing to children. But button batteries can cause major injuries and possibly death if swallowed by a child.
Button batteries are everywhere these days. You will find them in games and toys, remote controls, calculators, thermometers, hearing aids, key fobs, bathroom scales, cameras, electronic jewelry, greeting cards and holiday ornaments.
Button batteries contain either mercuric oxide or silver oxide. Batteries manufactured before 1996 are considerably more toxic due to higher levels of mercury.
It should not be assumed that everything that enters the home with a battery is safe for children. Many devices are designed for easy removal of the battery. Batteries fall out when the products are dropped. Parents and caregivers should always tape the battery compartment shut. Extra batteries should always be stored in a place that is out of children’s reach.
Button batteries may seem to be dead because they no longer power the devices. However, this is not true. Batteries still have remaining charge. This charge can burn sensitive internal tissue. Children can be harmed if they get batteries stuck in ears, noses or throats. They can cause choking if swallowed. The higher the voltage, the faster the injury.
There may be virtually no symptoms that identify the problem as being battery ingestion. The symptoms seen are similar to those of a common infection. Health care professionals are not always going to look for ingested batteries as their first tests.
Following are some common symptoms to watch out for:
Children and the elderly (hearing aid batteries) are prone to getting batteries stuck in their ear canals. Children also can place button batteries up their noses. When this occurs, pain may be noted and there may be drainage. These symptoms are not unique to button batteries but due to their size and shape, button batteries fit into many small cavities. Since the battery may not have been seen going into the nose or ear, delays in treatment can cause more injury. This can lead to nasal mucosal injury, scar tissue formation, periorbital cellulitis and nasal septal perforation. The ear canal can be injured through tympanic membrane perforation, hearing loss and facial nerve paralysis.
If the battery is swallowed, the electric current can very rapidly change the pH balance of the tissues next to the battery. This can happen in as little as 2 hours. Batteries stuck in the esophagus can cause esophageal perforation, vocal cord paralysis, tracheoesophageal fistula, mediastinitis, esophageal stricture or death caused by a significant hemorrhage of the aortoesophageal fistula.
If you or your caregiver suspect that a button battery has been swallowed, stuck up a nose or an ear, immediately take the child to the emergency room and report the suspicion immediately. It is critical that the primary or urgent care professionals consider the possibility of a metallic foreign object until proven that it is not an issue.
Diagnosis generally requires a two view x-ray since button batteries are so thin. This will also eliminate any mistaking the foreign body from being a coin which is a much more common problem. Batteries have halos on x-rays while coins do not.
Treatment for a battery that is stuck within a child’s body requires urgent removal. This is so that tissue damage caused by the electrical current is minimized. There is also a requirement for long-term monitoring. This is to make sure that long-term damage has not been caused. This damage may not show any complications until much later.
Curiosity is the hallmark of being a child. The world is new and there are many dangers in seemingly innocent settings. All spare and loose batteries should be kept safely out of reach of children. Be prepared for the unexpected.
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