Most kids go through that dreaded phase. You know, the one where they put anything and everything into their mouth. Stray Legos®. Dried bits of food. Fuzz.
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Sometimes, that curiosity leads children to swallow objects they shouldn’t. According to a recent study, the number of kids under 6 who accidentally swallow foreign objects doubled over the past two decades.
“What they found was that about 800,000 kids — so almost a million kids — came in to the emergency room for foreign body ingestion,” says pediatrician Lisa Diard, MD, who didn’t take part in the study. “And the rate of ingestion was going up, particularly for batteries.”
What are button batteries?
The study showed that the number of incidents involving the consumption of a button battery rose by more than 90%, which begs the question: What the heck is a button battery?
It’s the coin (or button)-shaped battery powering your watch, your hearing aids, your car keys, and —increasingly — your children’s toys. As these small batteries become increasingly common household items, the number of kids swallowing them (and putting them in other unadvisable places) goes up, too.
That’s bad news. Button battery ingestion is dangerous because the batteries can make holes in the esophagus and intestines, leading to tissue damage and even death.
Symptoms to look out for
Nobody can watch their child every second, so it’s important to know the symptoms of button battery ingestion. They include:
- Refusing to eat or drink.
- Coughing or choking, especially while eating.
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Excessive drooling.
- Noisy breathing.
- A hoarse voice or sore throat.
- Abdominal pain or vomiting.
- Bloody stool, saliva or vomit.
Because all of these symptoms can accompany other kinds of illness or injury, be sure you’re keeping track of how many button batteries you own — and store them somewhere safely out of reach.
What to do if your child eats a battery
A child swallowing a button battery is an emergency. Damage to their esophagus can start within hours of consumption, so you need to get them to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.
Do not induce vomiting.
Do not attempt the Heimlich maneuver.
If your kid is over the age of 1, give them 2 teaspoons of honey every 10 minutes while you make your way to the hospital. A 2018 study demonstrated that honey acts as a “protective esophageal irrigation.” It can’t prevent injury to the esophagus, but it can reduce the severity of the damage. Remember: Honey is extremely dangerous for children under a year old. If an infant swallows a button battery, you shouldn’t give them anything to eat or drink.
How to keep children safe around electronics
According to Dr. Diard, parents need to be aware of what objects in their home contain button batteries, and always keep them out of a child’s reach.
“The number one recommendation made in the study was to make sure that you use some sort of child-proofing device,” Dr. Diard notes. “If you have a button battery in a car key or another device, make sure that it’s really tightly screwed in.”
Toys that use button batteries should only be played with under supervision.
If you need to throw out a button battery, Dr. Diard suggests placing tape on both sides of the used battery and storing it in a secure bag until you’re able to recycle it.
Parents and caregivers should have the number for poison control in their cell phones (1.800.222.1222) so it’s handy at all times.
If you suspect your child has swallowed a foreign object, always call poison control right away, in addition to calling the child’s doctor or 911.
Complete results of the study can be found in Pediatrics.