Report Highlights Button Battery Danger for Children

A new U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) report is highlighting button battery dangers to children. As we’ve long written, young children and senior adults are unintentionally swallowing button batteries, sometimes with immediate and devastating consequences.

Cases of battery-related injuries are on the rise, noted WebMD, which reported that in 1998, such injuries led to 1,900 pediatric emergency room (ER) visits. In 2010, 4,800 cases were reported. In fact, nationwide, more that 40,000 children were admitted to ERs between 1997 and 2010. Nearly all—about three-quarters—were under the age of four, one in 10 needed hospitalization, and 14 died. “This information is consistent with recent reports showing an increase in severe or fatal outcomes with button battery ingestions from 1985 to 2009,” wrote the report authors, according to WebMD.

Twelve of the 14 deaths were directly linked to button batteries, while the other two also likely involved the batteries; at least three were caused by batteries from products not meant for children, such as device remotes. WebMD noted that a law under consideration by Congress may mandate child-proofing for button battery enclosures on all consumer products.

The CDC said that round, button-sized batteries are the most potentially harmful type of battery to young children, said WebMD. Typically, these button batteries, which power batteries, hearing aids, and other small devices, are easy to swallow. Once swallowed, noted WebMD, the buttons can become stuck in the esophagus and can lead to significant injury and death.

As we’ve explained, should a battery lodge in the esophagus for more than two hours, the battery can start an electric current that burns through the tissue, which can cause laryngeal nerve and vocal cords damage and bleeding fistulas. Hydroxide burns can also occur if a child pushes a button battery into his/her ear or nose, leading to hearing loss or breathing problems. WebMD noted batteries stuck in the throat may leak alkaline electrolyte, a corrosive chemical. Even if a battery does not leak dangerous chemicals, direct pressure from the battery can stop blood flow, leading to tissue death. Symptoms also include, said WebMD, abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea, and difficulty breathing and swallowing, which can be difficult to attribute to battery ingestion.

The data, primarily derived from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, were collected and analyzed by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). That agency, said the report, “is urging the electronics industry and battery manufacturers to develop warnings and industry standards to prevent serious injuries and deaths from button batteries.”

“Another complicating factor arises when incidents are not witnessed or the diagnosis or treatment of battery ingestion is delayed, as it was in at least nine of the 14 fatal cases,” the report pointed out. “It is also important to recognize that children might be reluctant or unable to say that they ingested a battery or gave one to a sibling.”

Battery safety standards for children’s toys are legally mandated and state that all batteries must be inaccessible in toys created for children under the age of three; toys for children under 12 must make inaccessible all batteries under a certain size, said WebMD. “Parents and caregivers should be aware of the potential hazards associated with battery exposure (particularly ingestion of button batteries) and ensure that products containing them are either kept away from children or that the batteries are secured safely in the product,” the report’s authors concluded. If a child swallows a battery, the CPSC advises the local poison control center, family doctor, or 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline (1.202.625.3333) be contacted.

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