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Button Battery Injuries on the Rise among Children

May 16, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

Parents are being warned to tape up battery compartments on TV remote controls, electronic games, cameras and other household gadgets in the wake of a new study which found that the lithium "button batteries"  powering such devices are sending an increasing number of children to the emergency room.  The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the number of battery-related emergency room visits made by children has doubled in the past 20 years, largely due to children either swallowing or lodging the batteries in their ears or nose.

According to the study, between 1990 and 2009, more than 65,000 kids under age 18 had a battery-related ER visit between 1990 and 2009.  More than three-quarters of the children were ages 5 and under, and almost two-thirds were boys.  In that time frame, battery-related visits jumped by four kids for every 100,000 U.S. children each year, to between seven and eight per 100,000.   The vast majority of visits – more than 80% - were caused by the lithium button batteries.

When a child swallows a button battery, it may become lodged in the esophagus.  This can start an electric current that burns through the tissue, leading to a whole in esophagus.  Similar burns can occur if a button battery is lodged in the ear or nose.  While 92 percent of battery injuries are successfully treated, the report said the remainder face an ever-increasing risk for severe internal damage. According to the Pediatrics report, it can take only a couple of hours for a child who has swallowed a button battery to burn a hole through tissue.

“For parents, the message is that if they suspect that their child has swallowed a battery they need to get to the ER right away," lead author Dr. Gary A. Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told HealthDay News. "And in terms of prevention, they need to store and dispose of batteries out of reach, and also tape all battery compartments shut."

The Pediatrics report also recommended that manufacturers re-design button batteries so they are more difficult for children to access.

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