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Parents warned of button battery danger

button battery warning
09 October 2015

Parents are being warned to take extra care with the small batteries found in electronic devices, following an increasing number of emergency hospital admissions.

In the last year, 15 children were brought to Sheffield Children’s Hospital’s Emergency Department having swallowed batteries.

Some parents may be unaware of the particular risks posed by the small round batteries, known as button batteries, which are common in a variety of gadgets such as watches, car keys, night lights, musical greeting cards, remote controls and calculators.

If swallowed, button batteries can burn into a child’s throat and harm vital organs, causing permanent damage or death.

This is because the electrical current from the battery reacts with the moisture from the body to create sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda – a chemical so powerful it is used as drain cleaner.

Keep button batteries away from young children

Deirdre O’Donnell, an Emergency Department Consultant at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, said: “It is so important that parents do everything they can to keep button batteries away from small children.

“If somehow your child does swallow a button battery, take them to your nearest A&E immediately.

“While most of these will pass through your child’s gut uneventfully, it is possible that doctors may have to operate on your child, so get to the hospital promptly and make sure your child does not have anything to eat or drink.”

If the battery has passed to the stomach, doctors will carry out regular checks to make sure it passes from the body safely. However if it becomes stuck in the oesophagus – the tube running from the throat to the stomach – then emergency surgery is necessary.

Parents and carers are advised to:

  • keep button batteries locked in a safe place
  • dispose of old batteries safely (used up batteries are still a risk)
  • not leave small children alone with electronic equipment

Mum: “Not knowing if she was going to make it or not was so scary”

Two year-old Georgia was discharged from Sheffield Children’s Hospital at the end of September after eight weeks in hospital, three of them in the intensive care unit.

Georgia had swallowed a single button battery and was fortunate to survive the experience.

Her mum Sarah said: “I saw her with a packet of batteries and took them off her. I didn’t see she had anything else. But ten minutes later she was screaming on the floor and holding her back.

“I took her straight into A&E. They gave her an x-ray and saw the battery lodged in her oesophagus.

“They rushed her down for surgery and took it out. It was burning her oesophagus.

“But after that her breathing kept getting worse and we found out it had burned through her lungs as well. She was taken down to the intensive care unit and had a chest drain put in.

“Apparently the chemicals in the battery can carry on burning after it is taken out.

“It was awful. Not knowing if she was going to make it or not was so scary.”

Fortunately after her weeks of care at Sheffield Children’s, Georgia is now home and recovering well. However mum Sarah hopes other parents will be able to learn from their terrible experience.

She said: “I knew you needed to keep batteries away from children, but not in a million years would I have thought that it could do so much damage.

“I want other parents to know that these batteries are extremely dangerous. Don’t buy them if you don’t have to, and if you do have them in the house, lock them away with any household chemicals.”

Note: Names have been changed at the request of the family involved. 

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