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Deadly button batteries are responsible for a rising number of injuries

Button batteries are dangerous and can be fatal if swallowed. The National Capital Poison Center has issued a warning prior to the holiday season because the number of injuries from button batteries used in flameless candles increased in the two-year period that ended in June 2016. Last year more than 3,100 people swallowed the coin-shaped batteries, more than 1,900 of whom were children. For at least 20 children under 6, this resulted in major injuries, some of which were fatal.

Even tiny button batteries that are ‘dead’ and no longer able to work in a remote control, toy, game, flameless candle, or hearing aid have enough remaining power to cause a serious chemical reaction. When a battery gets stuck in the esophagus it can burn right through it tube and cause major damage. According to the Poison Center, perforations of this type can result in children having to breathe and take nourishment through tubes for months or even years, and if the damage reaches the aorta it can cause massive bleeding and sudden death.

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Six years after initial warnings, the dangers persist. “We pulled out all the stops after we first alerted the public and healthcare providers about the deadly dangers of button batteries,” said Toby Litovitz, MD, the executive & medical director of the National Capital Poison Center. “Industry stepped up and made battery packaging child-resistant. UL implemented standards to secure the battery compartments of battery powered media devices, followed by additional standards covering other household electronics.

Safety and medical groups issued warnings and a national Button Battery Task Force was founded to promote injury prevention. But still, six years after initially sounding the alarm, there’s no indication that the hazard is diminishing.”

The “tricky” part when a child swallows a battery is that most often no one sees it happen. According to the Poison Center, 54 percent of the time when a child under 6 swallowed a 3-volt coin cell the child had removed it from an electronic device without the parents noticing it. Little kids like to take things apart and they also like to put things in their mouths, especially if they are the same shape as candy.

According to Litovitz, batteries stuck in the esophagus have to be removed within two hours to avoid serious injury. The greatest danger is from the 3-volt 2o mm lithium coin cells that are a little larger than a penny. These batteries have imprints with the numbers 2032, 2016, or 2025.

Here’s the Poison Center’s warning: “Ingestion of a battery is a medical emergency. If a child swallows a battery, don’t delay. Go to the emergency room right away to get an x-ray to make sure the battery is not stuck in the child’s esophagus. It can be stuck even if there are no symptoms. And if a battery is lodged in the esophagus, it MUST come out within 2 hours to prevent devastating, even fatal, consequences. Call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333 (U.S.) for immediate and expert help if a battery is swallowed.”