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1/10/20blog post

dangers of button batteries

It’s winter time, which means more play time with toys inside. But did you know that there is a tiny power source inside some toys and many other objects that can pose a huge danger? In the last two decades, there has been a disturbing increase in children swallowing these tiny power sources - button batteries. The National Capital Poison Center says that between 2005 and 2017, 29,223 children under the age of six ingested a button battery and 25 children died from this ingestion.

Many times, parents and grandparents aren’t aware their child has swallowed a button battery.  The first symptoms can mimic a cold or a sorethroat.  It's not until their child starts having trouble swallowing or breathing, that they realize something is very wrong.  By that time, the battery has done major damage, many times in as little as two hours.

“It looks like a little bomb has gone off in a child’s throat,” says Ravi Elluru, MD, PhD, pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor at Dayton Children’s.  “You can see the indentation in the esophagus where the battery was and a lot of blackened damaged tissue around it.” 

 “There is an electrical reaction between the button battery and the lining of the throat that produces a reactive chemical,” Dr. Elluru explains. “That chemical then eats away at the tissue.”

 “The larynx can be damaged, the nerves to the vocal cords can be paralyzed which can also make it hard to breathe, or the battery can burn a hole through the esophagus. If any secretions leak from the esophagus into the chest, it can cause a serious infection of the chest.  That is rare, but a child can die within 12 to 24 hours if this occurs.”

The National Capital Poison Center says the top three items that batteries come from are hearing aids, games/toys and lights, but buttons batteries are also in a number of other items. Parents need to take extra precautions to put button batteries out of a child's reach. If the gadget containing one can’t be put away, a piece of duct tape over the battery compartment may keep small children from getting to the battery inside.  Most toys should have a screw that secures the battery compartment closed.  Parents can also warn family members, friends and caregivers to do the same. The biggest deterrent to kids swallowing batteries in addition to what is mentioned, is vigilance. Constant observation of young kids around battery operated devices.

If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, get to the emergency department immediately.  Time is the enemy. The longer a button battery sits against the tissue in a child’s throat, the more devastating the outcome will be.  If it’s nothing, you’ve only wasted an evening.  If it’s a battery ingestion, you may have saved a life.

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Ravindhra G. Elluru, MD, PhD

division chief ear nose and throat (ENT)
view full bio