Parents and caregivers should be on the lookout for an often overlooked danger that is hidden inside many of the toys, remote controls and other small items in their home. If swallowed the lithium batteries that provide the power can become lodged in the throats of children. The saliva immediately triggers an electrical current that causes a chemical reaction that can severely burn the esophagus in as little as two hours. In some cases, children have died from their injuries. So far this year, the Minnesota Poison Center has recorded 41 exposures to coin batteries.
A Little-Known Threat
The threat is invisible, as these batteries are often inside compartments within electronic devices. However, because many of these devices are not children’s toys, the battery compartments are easy to open. Small children often have easy access to these devices and enjoy playing with them, and many parents do not know there is a risk.
Serious Complications and Deaths Are Increasing
The number of cases where children have been seriously hurt or have died has more than quadrupled in the past five years (2006-2010) compared to the five years prior (2001-2005). In 2010 alone, there were more than 3,400 swallowing cases reported in the U.S., according to Dr. Toby Litovitz, of the National Capital Poison Center, who is an advisor to this effort. Most often, the batteries children swallow have come out of remote control devices.
Even after the battery is removed from the throat, an electrical current can continue that can paralyze vocal chords or form an abnormal connection between the esophagus and trachea (wind pipe). Repairing that damage is painful and can require feeding tubes, breathing tubes and multiple surgeries.
Where the Risk Hides
Coin-sized button batteries, approximately the size of a nickel, are found in everyday devices such as:
• Mini remote control devices that unlock car doors and control MP3 speakers
• Bathroom scales
• Reading lights
• Flameless candles
• Talking and singing books
Steps for Parents and Caregivers
• Examine devices and make sure the battery compartment is secure.
• Keep coin-sized button batteries and devices out of sight and out of reach.
• Go to the emergency room immediately if swallowing is suspected.
• Call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333 for additional treatment information.
• Tell others about this threat and share these steps.