Button batteries pose risk to kids

Serious injuries can occur within two hours of swallowing devices

Button batteries pose risk to kids
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Holiday safety tips

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Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2010

Children who swallow a "button" battery, commonly found in toys and consumer products around the home, can suffer internal injuries within two hours of ingesting one, according to a recent U.S. study.

As a result, the Winnipeg Health Region injury prevention program, IMPACT, is reminding parents to be aware of the health threat posed by these batteries, and to take quick action if they suspect that their child has swallowed one.

The American study reported that in the past 18 years there have been over 8,500 cases reported to the American Battery Ingestion Hotline, with 73 cases of serious injuries from battery ingestion and 13 deaths. Sixty-two per cent of these cases occurred in children who were younger than six years of age. The study also found that children can suffer serious injuries as soon as two hours after swallowing a battery.

The Winnipeg Health Region's Children's Hospital at Health Sciences Centre treats at least six children every year for ingested button batteries. Injuries typically occur when a battery becomes stuck in a child's esophagus. Once lodged, the battery can create an electrical current that burns or perforates the surrounding tissue.

Depending on where the battery is lodged, it may be removed using either a scope or surgery. Children have also put small batteries in their noses and ears. This can also cause a burn and so they need to have the battery removed immediately.

Dr. Lynne Warda, a medical consultant with the Region's injury prevention program, says parents need to be aware of the risks, especially as the gift-giving holiday season approaches.

"While button batteries pose a health risk to children year-round, with the possibility of more toys, trinkets and electronics around, we would like to remind parents to be cautious," says Warda.

"Within two hours a battery lodged in the esophagus can cause tissue damage as a result of a burn," says Warda. That means parents should act quickly if they suspect their child has swallowed a battery.

"Our advice is to go immediately to Emergency and have an X-ray taken. If the battery is in the esophagus, it needs to be removed as soon as possible," she says.

The larger button batteries pose the greatest risk of injury - or even death.

"The ones that measure 20 mm or more, are more likely to get stuck, and since they are more powerful, they cause a more severe burn," says Warda.

Parents are encouraged to look for toys that help protect children from batteries by having a compartment for the battery that may only be opened with a tool or screwdriver.

It's the other uses for button batteries that parents need to be aware of, says Warda. Button batteries are found in a variety of household products, including remote controls, garage door openers, cameras, calculators, key chains, jewellery with flashing lights and even greeting cards. And they're much easier to access in these types of products.

That means curious little people need to be carefully watched when they're around these potential health hazards.

"The biggest message is awareness and prevention. If you can prevent it from happening in the first place, you don't have to worry," says Warda.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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