The serious challenge of button batteries

Dayton Children’s new mommy safety blogger, Jessica Saunders

Mary is getting bigger and bigger every day and I’m amazed at all of the new things she seems to pick up every day.  She’s starting to enter one of those scary phases…putting everything into her mouth! Luckily, she’s not crawling yet to get anywhere she shouldn’t but anything near here will eventually end up full of baby slobber!

It’s scary because you realize how many things are so dangerous if they end up in a baby’s tummy.  Some of the most dangerous things are button batteries.

Small, coin-sized batteries  or “button batteries” can be found in products common in every home in the United States. From the flashlight sitting on the table, to the remote control next to the TV, “button batteries” are in thousands of products used in and around the home. Young children can easily and unintentionally swallow the button batteries.  Occasionally, a swallowed battery will pass through the intestine. Most often, however, batteries that become lodged in a child’s throat or intestine generate and release hydroxide, resulting in dangerous chemical burns.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Toby Litovitz of the National Capital Poison Center, found that button battery-related incidents resulting in severe injury and fatality have increased sevenfold since 1985. The majority of reported incidents involve 20 mm diameter, or larger, 3 volt batteries.

Most incidents involve children younger than 4 years old. In the majority of incidents, children gain access to batteries directly from games, toys, calculators, remote controls and other items commonly left within a child’s reach.

This problem becomes difficult to diagnose because parents often are unaware that a child has swallowed the button battery.  Many times symptoms resemble common childhood ailments, such as an upset stomach and fever, and in some incidents, there are no symptoms at all. However, if left undetected can have devastating consequences.

Dayton Children’s and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommend the following steps to prevent unintentional battery ingestion:

  • Discard button batteries carefully.
  • Do not allow children to play with button batteries, and keep button batteries out of your child’s reach.
  • Caution hearing aid users to keep hearing aids and batteries out of the reach of children.
  • Never put button batteries in your mouth for any reason as they are easily swallowed accidentally.
  • Always check medications before ingesting them. Adults have swallowed button batteries mistaken for pills or tablets.
  • Keep remotes and other electronics out of your child’s reach if the battery compartments do not have a screw to secure them. Use tape to help secure the battery compartment.
  • If a button battery is ingested, immediately seek medical attention. The National Battery Ingestion Hotline is available anytime at (202) 625-3333 (call collect if necessary), or call your poison center at (800) 222-1222.

So while it’s nearly impossible to keep some things out of a baby’s mouth – items such as button batteries are extremely dangerous and should be kept far away from young children.

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.

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