Button batteries found in remote controls and other household electronic devices are a severe and little known risk for young children.
Kidsafe Qld CEO Susan Teerds said that swallowing button batteries often occurs with children under the age of five, however there have been cases involving children up to the age of 12.
“Button batteries present a problem whether they are ingested or inserted in an ear or nose; wherever they have prolonged local contact with the body,” Ms Teerds said.
“Damage occurs when the battery charge generates a chemical reaction that causes a localised caustic injury. “
It is vital to detect a swallowed battery as soon as possible because of the nature of the threat involved - they can be fatal.
“While most other ingested foreign objects will pass through the gastrointestinal tract without causing any concerns, button batteries, depending on their size, have a tendency to lodge in the oesophagus (food pipe).
“Once stuck, damage starts to occur after one to two hours.
“If the ingestion is not recognised, the battery can erode through into vital organs, causing catastrophic damage and sometimes death.”
If parents believe their child has swallowed a battery, they must call the 24 hour Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for fast expert advice. Do not give any food or water.
The coin-sized lithium button batteries can lodge in the throats of children, where saliva immediately triggers an electrical current, causing a chemical reaction that can severely burn through the oesophagus in as little as one to two hours.
"An estimated 20 children per week in Australia present to an emergency department with a button battery related injury," Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit’s Director, Dr Ruth Barker said.
“A significant problem arises when the parent does not know that their child has ingested or inserted a button battery. This is particularly so for children under the age of three years, who are more likely to ingest a foreign body and not be able to tell someone about it. Unfortunately, symptoms can mimic common common childhood conditions, with vomiting, drooling and cough.” Dr Barker said.
“One of the greatest risks is when parents are changing or discarding batteries that are flat. Don’t leave new batteries or the flat batteries within reach of children.
“Flat or dead batteries still contain enough life to generate an electrical current once ingested.”
Symptoms of swallowing a button battery may include:
- chest pain
- abdominal pain,
- not eating hard food, or
Button batteries are found in common devices:
- bathroom scales
- hearing aids
- reading lights
- flameless candles
- games and toys
- torches and laser lights
- remote control devices that unlock car doors and control MP3 speakers, and
- musical greeting cards.
The advice from Kidsafe is to:
· Examine devices and make sure the battery compartment is secure
· Keep coin-sized button batteries and devices out of sight and out of reach (as poisons and medications)
· Dispose of old button batteries immediately and safely
· If swallowing or insertion of a button battery is suspected, call Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26
· Tell others about this threat and share these steps.