Medical City Healthcare - December 01, 2021

Button batteries are, unfortunately, the perfect size and shape for curious children to pop in their mouths when no one is looking. Also called coin batteries, these shiny silver disks are used in a variety of electronics, including watches, musical greeting cards, toys and games. According to the National Safety Council, every year more than 2,800 kids are treated in emergency rooms after swallowing button batteries. Over the last decade, the number of serious injuries or deaths as a result of these batteries has increased nine-fold. Here’s what you need to know about the dangers of button and coin batteries and how to tell if a child may have swallowed one.

“Coin battery ingestions are a time-sensitive problem,” says Philip Ewing, MD, a Medical City Healthcare emergency physician. We have only a few hours in which to get a battery out of the esophagus before it starts to cause damage there. And it can be life-threatening damage.”

Signs of button and coin battery ingestion.

The National Poison Control Center website advises that most button batteries pass through the body and are eliminated in the stool. The ones that cause tissue damage are those that get hung up on their way down — especially in the esophagus. When this happens, a reaction occurs that can burn the tissue lining the esophagus.

In most cases, an X-ray is needed to determine if the battery has moved through the esophagus to the stomach, where it can be allowed to pass on its own. If it hasn’t, it will need to be removed immediately.

Symptoms that may indicate a child has swallowed a button battery include:

  • Choking and gagging
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty keeping food or liquid down

Anyone with breathing problems or uncontrolled vomiting needs urgent medical attention. Seek emergency care at an ER, or, for life-threatening emergencies, call 911.

What to do if your child has swallowed a battery.

Poison Control suggests you follow these steps if someone has ingested a battery. However, seeking care during an emergency by calling 911 or heading to the nearest ER should always come first.

  • Call the 24-hour National Battery Registry Hotline at (800) 498-8666
  • If readily available, provide the battery ID number, found on the package or a matching battery
  • Don’t attempt to induce vomiting or give the person anything to eat or dink
  • Watch for and immediately report symptoms such as fever, stomach pain, vomiting or bloody stool

Be aware that button batteries can also cause permanent damage when placed in the nose or ears. Symptoms may include pain and/or fluid leakage in the affected area. Young children and the elderly are most often involved in these types of incidents and should be seen by a physician. Don’t attempt to treat the patient by administering ear or nose drops, which can cause further damage.

How to prevent button and coin battery injuries.

“Coin batteries are shiny things that kids are attracted to by nature,” Dr. Ewing says. “It’s important to make sure that you promptly dispose of the old battery and make sure that the new battery is tightly sealed within the compartment.”

The National Safety Council offers these additional tips to keep your family safe:

  • Be aware of which items in your home contain button batteries
  • When possible, purchase batteries in child-resistant packaging
  • Always keep loose batteries locked away where kids can’t get to them
  • Out of sight is out of mind: keep devices containing button batteries where kids can’t find them
  • Instruct older children to do the same with their battery-operated toys and games

Use extra caution during birthdays, holidays and other celebrations where gifts are exchanged. Instead of wrapping batteries with gifts, keep them separate and have an adult install them.

 Medical City Healthcare provides comprehensive emergency services for adults and children across North Texas.

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