Risks rising for little kids ingesting button- and lithium coin-batteries

battery-150x150As manufacturers press to shrink electronic devices, small children across the country are getting put at high risk of big harms by swallowing small button- and lithium coin-batteries, research shows.

The round, shiny, and ubiquitous batteries have proven to be irresistible to the pint-sized and curious, who gulp them down after they find them scattered around or pry them free from an array of gadgets, including, the New York Times reported, “television remotes, key fobs, thermometers, scales, toys, flame-free candles — even singing greeting cards.”

Grownups can be shocked by the damage the objects can cause, the newspaper reported:

“A report published [Aug. 29] in the journal Pediatrics suggests that the problem is growing in the United States. There were more than twice the number of pediatric battery-related visits to the emergency department from 2010 to 2019 compared with 1990 to 2009 — a majority in children under 5. From 2010 to 2019, there was an average of one battery-related pediatric visit to the emergency department every 1.25 hours …, according to data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

“Swallowing a button battery is dangerous because the battery generates an electric current when it comes into contact with bodily fluids like saliva that can burn through a child’s body tissue and lead to life-threatening complications or even death. The data in the new study did not provide detailed information on patient outcomes, but 12% of the children who were taken to the emergency department required hospitalization, most because of ingestion.

‘The most common button batteries used in readily available household devices are about the size of a quarter, which is a perfect size to get stuck in the esophagus,’ said Dr. David Brumbaugh, an associate professor of pediatrics with the University of Colorado School of Medicine who did not work on the new study. ‘Serious damage to tissue can occur in a matter of hours,’ Dr. Brumbaugh added. ‘So, for pediatric gastroenterologists, otolaryngologists, pediatric surgeons, and anesthesiologists — the teams that get these batteries out of the esophagus — these ingestions are really scary. You are in an emergency situation to get the battery out, and super worried about the damage being done.’”

Federal safety regulators are well-aware of the pediatric battery hazard, especially because President Biden recently signed “Reese’s Law,” a measure named in honor of Reese Hamsmith, an 18-month-old girl who died after ingesting a button battery from a remote control.

The law, the Washington Post reported, “directs the [U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission] to develop new safety standards regarding button or coin batteries that will require safer packaging, more visible warning labels — including on the batteries themselves — and more secure compartments on devices that hold the batteries, to prevent access by children 6 or younger. The agency has a year to issue the standards.”

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them by defective and dangerous products, especially of the medical variety. Damages inflicted by devices can be devastating to the injured and their loved ones — and this cruelty is even truer when kids are involved.

The gadget-obsession of our modern lives has only increased, exponentially, the risks posed by batteries, not only due to tots’ ingestion of them but also with these power sources overheating and causing fires or exploding. Grownups must exercise great care about the devices their kids have and the products’ power sources.

The parents of the late Reese Hamsmith have set up an organization to raise awareness about the perils of batteries and to offer safety tips. The group urges parents to scour their homes to see which devices may have these batteries in them and to ensure those in use and any extras are secured from toddlers. Check the devices to see that screws or compartments that lock in the batteries are tight and tough to pry open. When buying spares, choose products with packaging that makes it tough for tots to get into.

If a child has swallowed a battery or gotten it stuck, say, in the nose or ear, parents should seek urgent medical treatment and they should not try to dislodge or get a youngster to bring up a battery, as this may cause more harms, the Hamsmith’s group says. Instead, parents should observe carefully and be prepared to talk with emergency personnel about when a child’s ingestion occurred and symptoms the youngster displays — information that can be key to appropriate medical treatment.

The group also urges parents to consult with the national Poison Help Line (800-222-1222), and in referral with local centers, to document battery harms for kids. We have much work to do to keep our kids safe and healthy, including from commonplace products that can carry real and present dangers.

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