An incident has caused fears of more serious exposure of young children to harmful short-term damage
If swallowed, a button battery could burn a child’s throat in less than two hours
A button battery could burn a child’s throat in less than two hours, a case report reveals.
Those who swallowed a button battery in the report would have spent a number of days with burning, stinging, itchy and irritated throat, in addition to puncture injuries to their throat, liver and stomach, researchers said.
The risk is limited to households with children under 10, but parents of older children are advised to install battery locks to prevent them swallowing anything.
The researchers, from Queen Mary University of London, said they had written to the Health Protection Agency and World Health Organisation on the possibility of the exposure of this type of battery to young children.
Button batteries are commonly used in electronic appliances, including video games, music players, cameras, watches and watches mobile phones. They are charged using a switch on a power source, such as a household plug, while in turn wirelessly transferred.
In the case report, published in the British Medical Journal, Dr Pratik Shah and colleagues describe a seven-year-old boy who suffered a number of burns on his mouth and throat, vomiting and itching, after swallowing a button battery while in the home of his carer.
After being examined in hospital on 7 June 2016, his parents were told that they were 90% certain the battery had been swallowed and the likelihood of suffering serious harm while exposed to the battery was 90%.
Doctors found he had punctured his internal cavity in three different places. The wound had to be drained and bandaged with an antibiotic steroid in a bid to stop it from spreading.
Around the same time, an eight-year-old boy suffered a similar type of battery exposure after swallowing a disposable bottle cap. He, too, was airlifted to hospital and treated in intensive care with 10 pints of blood drawn.
Shah, who is a consultant dermatologist, said: “It’s an easy thing to do – and a more common – exposure of the button battery to a young child can be the hidden thing causing harm. That could be the bathroom door handle. Or the toothpaste lid. Or the battery charger under the bowl of a washing machine.”
He added: “I’m not expecting the scale of the suffering to be severe but I don’t think we should forget that it can cause harm. That needs a bigger public response that this is a risk.”
The researchers said it was important that parents use battery locks on electrical items such as remote controls and remote ovens to prevent children from swallowing them. They also asked for organisations to release guidance for using battery locks with infants.
Dr Christopher Elser, from Swansea University, who was not involved in the report, said there had been other research on the possible risks of button batteries. He said: “There has been limited publication on this topic. This case report is very detailed.”
Dr Frank Rose, from the department of family medicine at the University of Cambridge, said a series of studies had suggested that many children had been affected by the exposure to button batteries but that there had been little follow-up. “This very bad case should trigger a call for more urgent research.”