The accidental swallowing of coin-sized “button batteries” is a rapidly mounting threat to children. These batteries are found in remote controls, singing greeting cards, thermometers, and children’s toys. Every year there are over 3500 cases of accidental ingestions reported to poison control centers in the United States. Studies show that since 1989 the risk that American children will experience a serious health complication after ingesting a button-battery has gone up seven-fold. These batteries pose the greatest danger to small children, who account for over 85 percent of accidental swallowing cases.
Pediatric ingestion results in the battery getting lodged in the esophagus, rather than the air passage. Experts believe that, because this does not induce a choking incident, neither the child nor parent will think anything is wrong. In addition, because the symptoms mirror those of common illnesses, such as the flu, fever, cough, and lack of appetite, doctors often miss the battery in their initial evaluation of the child. This is especially dangerous because the battery must be removed within two hours of swallowing to prevent damage to the child’s esophagus, including a potentially fatal alkaline burn. This is caused not by leaking battery acid, but by the exposure of body tissues to the battery’s external current, resulting in hydroxide than can burn through the throat. There have been over 10 deaths in the past five years, compared to only four in the previous 20 years. While experts believe the industry has a responsibility to make packages containing these batteries harder for children to open, they also feel that parents need to be careful and keep these batteries out of the reach of children.