Time-Lapse Video: Doctors Warn of the Dangers of Swallowed Button Batteries in Kids
When the 4-year-old Hunter was playing around his grandmother’s house in Ohio, he inquisitively put a small button battery inside his mouth. Instead of trying to induce vomiting or force-feed her grandson, Hunter’s quick thinking Grandmother Rebecca Roberts rushed him to Dayton Children’s Hospital where the doctors managed to remove the battery from his windpipe before it could cause any serious damage to the preschooler. “Hunter had trouble swallowing for a few days, but the doctors say he only suffered minimal damage which healed well,” said Roberts.
Hunter was lucky. But, the 2-year-old Brianna Florer wasn’t. The Oklahoman reported that Florer was running a low-grade fever for a couple of days and throwing up. But the day after Christmas, the toddler vomited blood and her skin turned blue. Doctors at St. Francis Hospital operated on her for two-and-a-half hours, but they couldn’t stop the bleeding caused by a silver button lithium battery no one knew she had swallowed 6 days prior. A few hours later, she was pronounced dead.
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According to the National Capitol Poison Center in Washington, D.C., more than 3,500 people in the United States, mostly children, swallow or ingest button batteries every year. Between 2005 and 2014, there have been 11,940 battery-swallowing incidents involving children under the age of 6. In the light of these startling facts, doctors in the US as well as in the UK are monitoring and warning of the dangers of young children swallowing lithium batteries.
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Dr Ravi Elluru, advanced pediatric airway, ear, nose and throat doctor at Dayton Children’s Hospital, states:
“These coin-size batteries tend to get lodged right behind the larynx at the esophageal sphincter. 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 to the rest of the chest. If any secretions leak from the esophagus into the chest, it can cause an infection. That is rare, but a child can die within 12 to 24 hours.”
Urging the parents and guardians of young children to pay close attention to the dangers of swallowed button batteries that can cause very serious injuries and, in some cases, death in children, Dr Marcella Bothwell, pediatric otolaryngologist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, notes:
“The button batteries are dangerous, they are attractive to kids because they are small and shinny, and they can easily be put in their nose, ear or they can swallow it. The coin-sized batteries can completely block the throat, blocking air passages and even trigger a chemical process and burn through tissue within just a few hours.”
In the U.S., the number of battery-swallowing cases resulting in major or fatal injuries has increased six-fold since 1985. No such statistics are available in the UK; however, in December 2014, the National Health Service issued a public announcement warning parents to be extra vigilant:
Ingestion of button batteries can cause serious harm and death. Severe tissue damage results from a buildup of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) as a result of the electrical current discharged from the battery, and not, as commonly supposed, from leakage from the battery. The sodium hydroxide causes tissue burns, often in the esophagus, which can then cause fistulisation into major blood vessels, resulting in catastrophic hemorrhage. Even apparently discharged (‘flat’) batteries can still have this effect, and button batteries pushed into ears or nostrils can also cause serious injuries.
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Dr Kate Parkins, a pediatrician and consultant at Manchester University Hospitals Trust, explains how button batteries have become the new child killer:
“Pre-school children are most at risk because these batteries are shiny and the same size as a Smartie. Children will think it’s a sweet, pop it in their mouth and swallow it. This can burn through the esophagus and surrounding blood vessels, causing potentially fatal damage within a couple of hours.”
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