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More kids heading to the emergency room after ingesting small batteries, new data shows

Here's a look at how to prevent it, with advice from experts.
emergency room
Posted at 9:46 PM, Aug 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-29 21:46:12-04

Researchers say new data shows that emergency room visits are up from the previous decade showing that children and young people under 18 are heading to the emergency room more after ingesting small lithium coin-sized batteries.

The batteries are ubiquitous, powering many electronic devices around the home, like key fobs, toys, flame-free candles, and many other pieces of technology.

The small, round, shiny button batteries can become lodged in a child's throat, nose or ears.

New data released in a report from the academic journal Pediatrics shows that the problem appears to be growing in the United States. Over twice as many emergency room visits related to children ingesting these small batteries were reported from 2010 to 2019 than in the window between 1990 and 2009, with the majority of those visits for children under five years old.

The report said pediatric battery-related emergency room visits increased significantly from 2010 to 2017, and prevention efforts were not found to reduce injuries markedly.

Now, experts are urging the battery industry to take action to find new designs to mitigate the issue as foreign body ingestion (FBI) became the fourth leading cause of calls to poison control centers for kids five years old and younger in 2019.

And quick removal of the FBI object is not enough. According to researchers, when button batteries make contact with internal tissue, it can cause a rapid "hydrolysis of water into hydroxide ions," which is an increase in highly alkaline pH. And if the small batteries are inserted into the nasal passage, it can cause septal perforation. If they are inserted into the ear, facial nerve paralysis can be triggered along with hearing loss or other issues.

Batteries are among the most common types of FBI in the United States.

In 2011, Safe Kids Worldwide partnered with Energizer to launch a campaign of community outreach, including through the media, to raise public awareness of the issues of ingesting batteries. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Broncho-Esophagological Association formed the National Button Battery Task Force in 2012 to bring representatives from the private and public sectors together to raise awareness.

The battery industry has created child-safe packaging and more warning labels and has tried to find ways to safely dispose of small batteries so they don't get into children's hands.

As the New York Times reported, experts advise if you believe your child has swallowed a battery, you can give two teaspoons of honey every 10 minutes to children older than one year if they have swallowed the battery within the previous 12 hours. This will help protect internal tissue while you wait to get emergency assistance.

Honey should not be given to a baby younger than 12 months old as it could cause infant botulism. If a child is suspected of having swallowed a battery, they should be taken to a medical professional as soon as possible.

Signs that a child has swallowed a battery could include coughing, refusal to eat or drink and vomiting, or strange and noisy breathing. Signs that a child has inserted a battery into their ear could include drainage or pain, similar to an ear infection.