As we all know, young children have a tendency to put random objects in their mouths. They are particularly drawn to colorful and shiny objects, including button batteries which are about the size of a small coin. Unfortunately, these tiny batteries can cause major injuries, or even death, if ingested.

Due to advances in technology, lithium button batteries are becoming more and more prevalent. They are commonly used in everyday household items such as car remote controls, hearing aids, calculators, children’s toys, scales and television remotes. This has led to remarkable rates of button battery ingestions – over 3,000 are reported in the U.S. annually.

When swallowed, button batteries pose a high risk for injury and complications – including death – because of the chemical reaction they can cause in the esophagus, or food pipe. The esophagus is located near several other important structures in the body, like the aorta (main blood vessel leaving the heart) and the trachea (windpipe), and the chemical reaction caused by the battery can cause the lining of the esophagus to erode. If the battery is not removed promptly, the erosion can cause the esophagus to connect to the trachea or aorta leading to bleeding or difficulty breathing.

What can parents do about button batteries?

Like with most health issues, prevention is key. Button batteries may seem relatively harmless; however they must be kept securely away from children. In the event of an accidental ingestion, you should first call 9-1-1 and then poison control (1-800-222-1222).

There are also some things you can do to reduce the risk of serious injury while waiting for the ambulance.

Recent studies have shown that a coating substance can protect the esophagus from the damage caused by the chemical reaction from the battery. A medication called carafate can provide this protection, but unfortunately it is only available from physicians. However, honey is a common household product which has similar protective properties.

If possible, and if the child is able to swallow, give 10 mL (2 tsp) of honey by mouth to children older than 12 months every 10 minutes, up to 3 doses. Children under 12 months of age are at risk for serious infections from unpasteurized honey and should not be given honey.

Do not give honey if the battery was possibly in the esophagus for more than 12 hours. Honey administration is not a substitute for emergent battery removal. It can slow tissue damage, but it does not completely prevent it from occurring. Battery removal should not be delayed because a patient has eaten recently or because a patient was given honey or carafate by mouth.

Remember: swallowing a button battery is a medical emergency, and it should be dealt with immediately.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelley ShirronKelley Shirron, CPNP-PC, is a board-certified pediatric nurse practitioner in the department of gastroenterology. In her role as the consult coordinator for the GI department, she has developed a robust partnership between the various departments in the hospital and the GI team.

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1 reply
  1. Gary A. Truitt, Ph. D. says:

    An excellent discussion of a subject that can only become more important in the future. Advice on patient management in the critical short term after ingestion is essential, and should be disseminated widely.

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