Each year almost 3,000 kids are treated in emergency rooms across the United States after swallowing a battery.  This amounts to one kid every 3 hours.  The number of serious injuries and death from battery ingestion has increased almost 9 times in the last 10 years.

In our Las Vegas community, we had the unfortunate experience of losing a toddler due to battery ingestion within the last month.  

Smaller Devices and Batteries contribute to the problem

The problem is increasing due to the proliferation of devices using small button shaped batteries, such as calculators, cameras, hearing aids, penlights, watches, and TV remote controls.  Batteries which are not controlled become a target for infants and toddlers who find them and instinctively put them in their mouths or sometimes nose.

About 90% of ingested batteries pass through the digestive tract without incident, however, for the 10 percent which don’t pass, serious consequences can result.  This is due to the content of the batteries, which contain heavy metals, such as zinc, mercury, silver, nickel, cadmium, or lithium.  These batteries also contain caustic electrolytes such as potassium, or sodium hydroxide.  All of these substances present a danger when placed in the digestive tract.

Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloody stool, chest pain, nausea, metallic taste and vomiting among others.  Unfortunately, due to the age of a toddler, they may or may not be able to communicate this information effectively.

What to do?

If you, or a child in your care, have swallowed a battery, you should call your doctor, or your child’s pediatrician immediately or go immediately to the emergency room for treatment.  If that option is not available, the National Poison Control Center is available 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222.  This is a free and confidential service provided by the National Institutes of Health.

For parents, don’t let the innocuous appearance of a small battery fool you.  It’s rather small size is what makes it a target.  Maintain control of such items, especially discharged batteries which you intend to dispose of, as the heavy metals are still contained even in the discharged battery.  While most batteries are sealed, if they do make it to the digestive tract, acids used in the digestive process can erode the battery container exposing the contents.

Additional Resources:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002764.htm

http://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/batteries

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/battery_ingestion/article_em.htm