Babies and toddlers will put almost anything into their mouth, but it can be life-threatening if a child swallows a button battery

Small and shiny, like coins, toddlers find button batteries irresistible.

While toddlers shouldn’t have access to them, sadly, more and more children are swallowing this potentially deadly device.

Serious damage can occur within just two hours

“Button batteries are ingested by children over 2 500 times a year in the United States, with more than a 12-fold increase in fatal outcomes in the last decade compared to the [previous] decade,” says Ian N. Jacobs, MD, Director of the Center for Pediatric Airway Disorders and a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

“Since serious damage can occur within two hours of ingesting a battery, the interval between ingestion and removal is a critical time to act in order to reduce oesophageal injury.”

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“Since serious damage can occur within two hours of ingesting a battery, the interval between ingestion and removal is a critical time to act in order to reduce oesophageal injury” – Dr Ian N. Jacobs

What happens when a child swallows a button battery?

When someone swallows a button battery, it mingles with saliva and tissue of the oesophagus and creates a hydroxide-rich, alkaline solution that essentially dissolves tissue.

Children with an oesophageal button battery may present with symptoms of a sore throat, cough, fever, difficulty swallowing, poor oral intake or noisy breathing.

This can cause severe complications like oesophageal perforation, vocal cord paralysis and erosion into the air passages or major blood vessels.

The longer it takes for the battery to be removed, the higher the risk for these children, particularly those without access to hospitals with specialised anaesthesiologists and endoscopists experienced in removing foreign objects.

Related: How to get your toddler to eat more vegetables

What should parents do?

Dr Jacobs, along with a team of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists, recently demonstrated that eating honey after swallowing a button battery has the potential to reduce serious injury in small children.

Based on findings in laboratory animals, the research suggests that this common household product may significantly reduce morbidity and mortality from highly caustic batteries.

“Our recommendation would be for parents and caregivers to give honey at regular intervals before a child is able to reach a hospital, while clinicians in a hospital setting can use sucralfate before removing the battery,” says Kris R. Jatana, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist and co-principal investigator.

However, the authors caution against using these substances in children who have a clinical suspicion of existing sepsis or perforation of the oesophagus, known severe allergy to honey or sucralfate, or in children under one year, due to a small risk of botulism.

The team had tested weak acidic liquids like lemon juice, but most children don’t enjoy drinking lemon juice.

“While future studies could help establish the ideal volume and frequency for each treatment, we believe that these findings serve as a reasonable benchmark for clinical recommendations,” says Dr  Jacobs. “Safely ingesting any amount of these liquids prior to battery removal is better than doing nothing.”

Prevention is better than cure

No parent wants to test this remedy, so make sure that button batteries are stored in a secured container, far out of reach of children.

It is also recommended that you check all electronic products in the home and make certain that the battery is enclosed in a compartment that requires a tool to open it.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia via

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