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Updated March 27, 2011An increasing number of young children and senior adults are being seriously injured by unintentionally swallowing "button batteries," the coin-sized batteries now commonly found in households across the nation, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Now used to power devices from cell phones to TV remotes and toys to hearing aids, button batteries can cause injuries the CPSC calls "immediate and devastating" if swallowed.
CPSC cites a National Capital Poison Center study showing a sevenfold increase in the number of serious injuries and deaths resulting from button battery ingestion since 1985. While swallowed button batteries will occasionally pass harmlessly through the intestines, most lodge in the victim's throat or intestines where they release hydroxide, resulting in dangerous and sometimes fatal internal chemical burns.
Young and Old at Most Risk
Most button battery injuries involve children under four and senior adults. Children mistake the batteries found in games, toys, calculators, remote controls and other items commonly left within their reach for candy. Senior adults have swallowed button batteries used in hearing aids after mistaking them for pills.
According to the National Capital Poison Center, "The majority of these severe injuries are from lithium batteries, a little larger than a penny, used to power such household items as remote controls, games and toys, calculators, cameras, computers, shoes, jewelry, thermometers, singing greeting cards, and a wide variety of other items."
Battery Swallowing Often Misdiagnosed
According to CPSC, more than 60% of reported incidents are misdiagnosed. Symptoms resemble ailments common in children, such as an upset stomach and fever, and in some incidents, there are no symptoms at all.
How to Prevent Button Battery Injuries
CPSC and the National Capital Poison Center recommend the following steps to prevent unintentional battery ingestion:
- Never leave batteries sitting out. Store spare batteries, and batteries to be recycled, out of sight and reach of young children. If recycling is not possible, wrap used batteries securely and discard them where a child can't find them.
- Discard button batteries carefully.
- Do not allow children to play with button batteries, and keep button batteries out of your child's reach.
- Caution hearing aid users to keep hearing aids and batteries out of the reach of children.
- Never put button batteries in your mouth for any reason as they are easily swallowed accidentally.
- Always check medications before ingesting them. Adults have swallowed button batteries mistaken for pills or tablets.
- Keep remotes and other electronics out of your child's reach if the battery compartments do not have a screw to secure them. Use tape to help secure the battery compartment.
- Make sure all hearing aids for children have child-resistant battery compartments and make sure the lock is activated when the child is wearing the aid.
- Don't insert or change button batteries in front of small children.
- If a button battery is ingested, immediately seek medical attention. The National Battery Ingestion Hotline is available anytime at (202) 625-3333 (call collect if necessary), or call your poison center at (800) 222-1222.