By Rod Moser, PA, PhD
Every so often, I have to send a child to x-ray to see if a button battery was ingested – those tiny round batteries used in many electronic devices now. They are shiny and highly delectable to grazing toddlers and hungry dogs. They can also be deadly. So far, I have not had a child die from eating a button battery, but over the years, I have had several require surgery to retrieve them.
Some swallowed objects can pass harmlessly out the back door, but button batteries are the exception. When ingested batteries come in contact with the moist intestinal tissue the tiny current may actually burn a hole, perforating the bowel. In about 75% of the cases, the batteries are swallowed whole. If chewed, the same burn can occur in the oral cavity or esophagus. Of course, toddlers have an annoying habit of inserting found objects into just about any bodily opening, such as the nose or ear. Several times a month I find myself locating and removing a variety of tiny objects – beans, beads, pencil erasers, sticks, stones, toys, and jewelry. No one has yet determined exactly why kids do this, but they do.
According to Michael Pots from Consultant for Pediatricians, the number of children seeking emergency room treatments for battery-related incidents has doubled since 1990. That doesn’t really surprise me since the number of devices that use them has probably quadrupled. I am surprised that we don’t see more, but perhaps many go unnoticed.
If you ever watch a toddler or crawler, you will see a lot of grazing behaviors. They search the carpet and floor for things to investigate. They find pins, earrings, popcorn kernels, lint, dead bugs, coins, pills, and dropped button batteries. We have grandchildren of that age now, so any visit is preceded by a thorough vacuuming and baby-proofing. I used to find button batteries all over the floor when we were caring for my wife’s 90-year old father, who insisted on installing his own hearing aid batteries.
If you have children and if you use button batteries, please be extra, extra careful. They may look innocent, but they are not, so account for all of them and discard the old ones properly. You also don’t want them showing up in landfills where birds and other creatures can eat them.