‘Tis the season for button batteries! These small, disc shaped batteries are typically found in many common products – children’s toys, games, flashing costume jewelry, and singing books; holiday decorations, calculators, watches, remotes, hearing aids, key fobs, flashlights, and many other products.
“Most parents and caregivers are unaware that the toys and everyday items their young children play with, contain these potentially dangerous batteries,” says Diane Calello, MD, Executive and Medical Director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “It does not take very long for a coin-sized battery to begin to cause serious injury once it gets stuck inside the body; internal chemical burns can result quickly, producing serious, even permanent damage to the esophagus and other internal organs.”
So far this year, the New Jersey Poison Control Center has referred 29 children to hospital emergency departments for swallowing button batteries. Along with these batteries, high-powered magnets may cause devastating, internal damage if swallowed. “Not only are magnets a choking hazard, but if two or more magnets are swallowed together, they can attract one another inside the body, causing a blockage or twist in the intestines. A single magnet may pass through just fine, but two or more is asking for serious trouble,” says Calello. To date, the state’s poison control center has consulted on 40 cases where children were exposed to such magnets.
It is important to take notice of home products that are missing these “bite-sized” batteries or magnets. This could be the first indication that a young child or pet has swallowed such items. “Whether you see your child swallow any of these items or suspect he or she did; immediate medical attention is required,” says Calello. “Do not wait for symptoms to develop – irreversible damage may have occurred by the time signs appear. This was the case a few years ago in New Jersey when a young child died after ingesting a button battery.”
Pets can suffer the same serious, even fatal health consequences of swallowing button batteries and magnets. If a suspected ingestion occurs, call your veterinarian or local animal hospital immediately. Ingesting these items is a medical emergency for pets as well.
Safety is no accident, it’s a choice. It’s far easier to prevent a tragedy than to treat one. Check the battery compartments of common household products; if the compartments are not secured by screws, prevent your child or pet from having access to those products. The same goes for products with high-powered magnets. “Assuming “dead” batteries cannot cause harm puts our children and pets at risk for these potentially life-threatening exposures. Dead batteries still have enough charge to burn through tissue, causing considerable damage when swallowed,” says Calello.
If you suspect illness, do not wait until symptoms occur or waste time looking up information on the internet. Contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 to get the immediate help you or a loved one needs. Center experts are health professionals available 24/7 for emergencies, questions, concerns, or information. Services are free, confidential, and a language line is available (over 150 languages). New Jersey residents can reach their center in the following ways: call 1-800-222-1222, text, or chat. If someone is unconscious, not breathing, hard to wake up, or seizing, call 9-1-1 immediately.