Button cell batteries are life threatening for young children

Due to their shape, the batteries stick to the throat and burn through the esophagus in no time

Holes in the esophagus, major bleeding and even death. Pediatrician Lissy de Ridder from Erasmus MC Sophia saw it all happen due to a swallowed button cell battery. On Button Battery Awareness Day, she warns of the dangers of the flat round batteries.

Button cell batteries are life threatening for young children. They have a nice shine and are very smooth. This makes it easy for young children to put them in their mouths and swallow them. And it is certainly not without danger, warns pediatrician Lissy de Ridder from Erasmus MC Sophia.

Due to their shape, the batteries get stuck in the throat and burn through the esophagus in no time. After just a few hours, holes can form in the esophagus and the adjacent trachea and blood vessels. It is a potentially life-threatening situation. ‘We have seen children die from this,’ says De Ridder.

car keys
In the last 2 years, 7 children have ended up in Erasmus MC Sophia due to a swallowed button cell battery. In the Netherlands, there were 25 children in 2021. Doctors worldwide are seeing the number of cases rise sharply, probably because batteries are being used more and more. It is usually children under 6 years, more often around 1 year. ‘At that age, it’s perfectly normal to put things in your mouth,’ says De Ridder. Button cell batteries are often found in remote controls, bicycle lights and car keys.

The Knight warns parents and caregivers: Be aware of the dangers of button cell batteries. “Everyone knows you have to keep a bottle of turpentine away from children, but batteries are just as dangerous.”

She sees that it goes wrong, especially when replacing an empty battery. Need to replace a battery? Do not leave the old battery unattended, but dispose of it quickly. And immediately put a piece of tape on both sides of the old battery so that it is no longer attractive to put in your mouth and swallow.

Everyone knows you should keep a bottle of turpentine away from children, but batteries are just as dangerous

If it goes wrong and you see a child swallowing a battery, go straight to the hospital to get a picture. Do not make the child vomit and do not give the child food or drink. Have you not seen anything but a child suddenly has breathing problems, is it difficult to eat and drink or does the child spit up blood? Then consider the possibility of swallowing a button cell battery.

deep impression
The Knight has a similar message to doctors: Keep a swallowed battery in your head as an option if a child comes in with the above complaints. ‘Take an X-ray as soon as possible so you can see it right away. The sooner we are there, the better we can limit the damage. ‘ De Ridder and colleagues wrote a European guideline for pediatricians, general practitioners, consultation centers and emergency room staff.

By raising awareness of the dangers of button cell batteries, De Ridder hopes to prevent life-threatening situations in healthy children. “Every time I am in the operating room to remove a battery, it makes a deep impression. I think then: we should have prevented that. If I’m standing next to that bed, it’s already too late.

International Button Battery Awareness Day
At International Button Battery Awareness Day on June 12, the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) and the Association of Battery Manufacturers European Portable Battery Association (EPBA) draw attention to the dangers of button cell batteries. “We work together because we both do not want accidents to happen,” says pediatrician Lissy de Ridder. The day is on American initiative, in memory of Reese Hamsmith, who died at the age of 2 after swallowing a button cell battery. This year, the day is being imitated for the first time in Europe.

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