What exactly are button batteries, and what are the dangers?
Button batteries are tiny, round, lithium batteries that are found in many objects, including toys, small electronics, calculators, musical books, remote controls, watches, and many others.
These batteries are even more dangerous than traditional batteries due to their small size; they are much easier to swallow. Button battery ingestion seems to be more common in small children because they explore and have a tendency to put things in their mouths. The dangers of button batteries are serious and can be detrimental if not treated right away.
Dr. Jill Sullivan is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital, and has knowledge about button batteries and experience dealing with button battery ingestion.
How many people has the Gastroenterology department at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital treated for injuries related to button battery ingestion?
This department sees, on average, 1-2 patients annually for button battery ingestion. According to the National Capital Poison Center, each year more than 3,500 people of all ages swallow button batteries.
Is button battery ingestion a growing problem in this community?
Button batteries can cause severe injury and even death if not treated quickly. Over the last 10-15 years, while the total number of battery ingestions has not significantly changed, the types of batteries ingested have changed and the rates of injury have significantly increased. This is related to the increased strength and availability of the larger lithium button batteries, used commonly in flat remote controls, toys, flameless candles, and watches. Most of the injuries, including fatalities, occurred in children younger than 6 years of age who ingested the large lithium battery.
What is the most common injury resulting from button battery ingestion?
Fortunately, most children do not suffer from severe injury. Most commonly, a battery is swallowed and is found in the stomach. However, the larger batteries can get lodged in the esophagus (particularly in small children) and within 1-2 hours cause significant damage. Damage can include burns, ulcers, or even perforation of the esophagus.
What is your experience with button batteries?
I have had several experiences with button battery ingestions. Unfortunately, I have seen three toddlers die secondary to severe injuries resulting from button battery ingestions. I have cared for another infant who had severe burns despite being treated within 3 hours after ingesting a “dead” button battery. Because of these, and other fatalities reported during the last 10 years, Poison Control has a Button Battery Ingestion Hotline (202-625-3333) to contact if there is suspicion that a button battery has been ingested. It is imperative that children with suspected button battery ingestions be taken immediately to a local emergency department for treatment. If a battery is stuck in the esophagus but removed within 1-2 hours, permanent damage or death may be prevented.
Do you believe the community is aware of how dangerous button batteries really are? Do you think there should be more awareness and education around this issue?
Batteries are commonly used in many items we use frequently and are found in many small electronics that children find very appealing! Thus, I think it is easy for the community to believe they are safe—because they are everywhere! While there have been national education efforts, mostly through Poison Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics Button Battery Task Force, I believe many members of our community are unaware of this danger. And yes, I agree—more education is needed here.
Here are some helpful tips as we approach the holiday season!
- Never leave batteries sitting out. Store unused batteries out of sight. Even “dead” batteries can still cause severe damage to the intestines. Do not allow children to play with batteries
- Check all devices with batteries to make sure the compartment is sealed shut. Batteries in toys should be secured with a screw or require a tool to open.
- Batteries are everywhere, including: remote controls, keyless entry fobs, scales, toys, cameras, watches, calculators, thermometers, greeting cards, talking books, handheld electronics, flashlights, flashing shoes, toothbrushes, lighted jewelry. Anything that is powered but not plugged in may have a button battery!
- Be especially cautious about large lithium batteries (20 mm). The codes of these batteries are: CR2032, CR 2025, and CR2016
- Never put a battery in your mouth for any reason. They are very slippery and easily swallowed (one of the reasons they are dangerous for toddlers).
Amy Hazen is an intern at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s office of Community Health Improvement. She is finishing up her bachelor’s degree in Community Health from SUNY Cortland.