When Julia (not her real name) noticed her 1-year-old daughter wheezing last fall, she took her to a doctor who diagnosed the wheezing as croup. No one knew that the toddler had swallowed a button battery — also known as a lithium or coin battery. It was lodged in her esophagus and creating electrochemical burns in her throat. Not long after the doctor visit, Julia noticed a button battery missing from a remote in her home. She rushed her daughter to a hospital for an X-ray. Sadly, it was too late. The button battery her daughter swallowed had caused severe damage, burning a hole through her esophagus. Her daughter died last December.
Each year, approximately 3,500 button battery ingestions are treated in medical facilities across the country. These small, seemingly harmless household items have the potential to cause electrochemical burns even when the charge is empty. Through Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Injury Prevention Program, we launched the “Button Batteries Burn” campaign to educate parents and families about the risk of button batteries and how to stop button battery injuries from occurring.
To ensure that your child does not accidentally ingest a button battery, always keep button batteries — whether new or used — in elevated, locked containers. Store all used and drained batteries in their own elevated, locked container so they can be properly disposed of at a local battery recycling center.
We also recommend doing a home safety inspection to identify where button batteries may be located in your home. Button batteries are commonly found in small electronics such as remote controls, thermometers, games and toys, hearing aids, calculators, bathroom scales, key fobs, watches and electronic jewelry, flashing shoes and clothing, cameras, holiday ornaments, flameless candles and musical greeting cards. Do a home walk-through and check all of these items and other small electronics to see if you can find button batteries. Check to see if the casing holding the button battery inside the small electronic is secure and child resistant.
Children have a variety of symptoms after ingesting a button battery. These can include vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea and difficulty breathing and swallowing. When these symptoms are persistent or unexplained, it may be a good idea to look around your home for missing button batteries and talk to your doctor about the potential of button battery ingestion.
Steps can be taken to prevent button battery injury. Educating yourself, preparing your home and educating other parents about this threat are some of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of button battery injury in your community. If you suspect a button battery ingestion, please call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. For more information about button battery ingestion and safety, visit safekids.org/batteries or call CHLA Injury Prevention at 323-361-4697.
Helen Arbogast, Ph.D., is manager of the Injury Prevention Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.