The holidays can be a magical time for children. But the season also comes with a danger most parents don’t think about — batteries.
Specifically, the worry is children swallowing lithium batteries, also known as button batteries. These flat, round batteries come in toys, holiday decorations, and singing greeting cards.
Swallowing lithium batteries can cause serious harm and even lead to death. Here’s what you need to know about this health hazard for children.
The Facts About Swallowing Lithium Batteries
Button batteries may look harmless, but they can be deadly if swallowed. Young children are especially at risk because they are prone to putting things in their mouths.
How does swallowing lithium batteries harm a child?
Sometimes a battery will pass harmlessly through the digestive tract. But if it gets stuck in the esophagus it reacts with saliva and begins to leak corrosive chemicals. These chemicals are similar to those found in drain cleaner.
The chemicals from a stuck battery can burn a hole through flesh in as little as 2 hours. Untreated, they can cause death.
According to the National Capital Poison Center, more than 3,500 people of all ages swallow button batteries every year in the U.S. More than 2,800 children annually end up in emergency rooms after swallowing lithium batteries. From 1991 to 2021, 66 children died from ingesting button batteries.
What products contain button batteries?
Button batteries come in a wide variety of products. Some of them are:
- Remote controls
- Car key fobs
- Digital thermometers
- Hearing aids
- Flameless candles
- Holiday decorations
- Singing greeting cards
- Handheld video games
- Cell phones
- Bedwetting monitors
- Flashing or lighted jewelry
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How to Prevent Your Child From Swallowing Lithium Batteries
Be aware of which products in your home have button batteries. Then follow these tips:
- Never allow children to play with batteries.
- Remind anyone who wears hearing aids in your family to keep the batteries out of reach of children. (Many people with hearing aids remove the batteries every night.)
- Never leave batteries sitting out unattended.
- Make sure the screws on all battery compartments are tight.
- Don’t give a child a toy with a battery compartment that can be easily opened.
- Supervise children if they are playing with battery-operated toys. ‘
- Store batteries where children can’t reach them.
- Be aware of toys and electronic devices belonging to older children that might contain button batteries and attract a younger child.
- Remind babysitters and other caregivers not to leave battery-powered devices where children can get them.
What to Do If Your Child Swallows a Battery
If you suspect your child of swallowing lithium batteries, it’s a medical emergency. You need to:
- Call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.
- If your child swallowed the battery within the past 12 hours, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving 2 teaspoons of honey. The honey provides a protective coating between the battery and sensitive tissue. But don’t delay going to the hospital to find honey, or give honey to a child who’s allergic or under 12 months.
- Don’t make your child throw up. The battery could do more damage on the way out.
- Don’t let your child eat or drink anything (other than the honey).
- Tell the ER doctors and nurses you believe your child swallowed a battery. They will want to get an x-ray right away.
Other Hazards of Button Batteries
Children also put batteries into their ears and noses. A battery stuck in an ear or nose can cause burns to the eardrum or nasal septum. The burns can lead to infections and even permanent breathing or hearing problems.
If you think your child has a battery stuck in their ear or nose, take them to the emergency room right away.
National Capital Poison Center, Batteries Cause Devastating Injuries, Link
National Capital Poison Center, Swallowed a Button Battery? Battery in the Nose or Ear? Link
National Capital Poison Center, Fatal Button Battery Ingestions, Link
American Academy of Pediatrics, How Small Batteries Can Become Dangerous to Children, Link
American Academy of Pediatrics, Concerns mount for catastrophic injury in children who ingest button batteries, Link
National Safety Council, Tiny Batteries Pose Sizeable Risks, Link
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