Keep Button Batteries Away From Children

Keep Button Batteries Away From Children.

Parents are being warned to keep button batteries under lock and key as doctors report a sharp rise in the number of children admitted to hospital in the UK after swallowing the metal discs. Doctors at Great Ormond Street hospital in London say about one child a month is admitted after swallowing a button battery – a dramatic increase on two years ago when just one child a year was admitted. “On Tuesday when I was the on-call surgeon I removed two button batteries in two children in one day,” said Joe Curry, a consultant paediatric surgeon at Great Ormond Street.

The consequences of swallowing the device, doctors say, can be devastating, with the batteries often becoming lodged in the food pipe where they can burn through tissue and rapidly create a hole. “If the battery is stuck in the upper oesophagus, and assuming the battery is ‘live’ when it goes in, you can start to see damage to the lining of the oesophagus within about 15 minutes,” said Curry. “We have seen rupture of the oesophagus within four hours.” The upshot, doctors warn, can be life-changing injuries, or even death, with some children having to undergo more than 50 operations and procedures after such an incident. “The damage to the oesophagus can be so devastating it can be immediately life-threatening because if the rupture of the oesophagus happens and the battery accidentally erodes into one of the main blood vessels in the chest, then you are at risk of immediate bleeding to death,” said Curry. “If it erodes out of the oesophagus and it goes into the airway then it creates an opening between the oesophagus and the airway so every time the child eats or drinks, fluid and food floods into the lungs, damaging the lungs and producing life-threatening chest infections.”

Button batteries are commonly found in a range of electrical devices, from watches to hearing aids and calculators. “The number of electronic devices that are existing in people’s homes that require these kinds of batteries is probably just increasing year on year and so the physical availability of them in the home is just increasing,” said Curry. With children keen to explore objects, often putting things in their mouth, doctors warn that babies, toddlers and even older children are at risk of swallowing the batteries.

Doctors say parents should remain vigilant to symptoms such as vomiting, choking, chest infections and difficulties in swallowing, and if they are concerned that a child has swallowed a battery they should immediately take them to A&E. “Children under six are most at risk, but even older children can be fascinated by them. As well as keeping the batteries and devices that use them out of the reach of children, time is of the essence if children swallow a battery, and parents should immediately seek emergency help,” Katrina Phillips, the chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, said. “Don’t wait to see if symptoms develop as the damage may already have been done.”

Credit: Nicola Davis for The Guardian Children 22 September 2016