Proposals to prevent child deaths from button batteries

Proposals to prevent child deaths from button batteries

There is a significant risk to small children from swallowing button batteries — they can become lodged in the oesophagus (food pipe) and can cause a chemical reaction that erodes tissue in just two hours.

A three-year-old girl in Britain swallowed a 23mm battery in the run-up to Christmas 2017 and died. Her parents’ made constant efforts over days to seek treatment for the child, who was initially diagnosed with tonsillitis and prescribed antibiotics.

Further visits to the family GP and local hospital followed, resulting in more antibiotics. Three days later, after a second call that day to 999, the girl died after she was taken by ambulance to hospital. Button batteries are often found in hearing aids, small toys, laser pointers and calculators, while coin cell batteries are typically used in remote controls, car key fobs, and bike lights.

Britain’s Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) has now recommended strategies to improve button and coin cell battery safety — including a standard covering their design, product casing, packaging and safe retailing practices. The HSIB report also says that paramedics and other health professionals should have support and guidance to spot the signs of a swallowed button battery.

The report said the severity of harm caused by such batteries — commonly found in toys, remote controls and car fobs — becoming lodged in a young child’s oesophagus was not widely understood by the public. If a child is thought to have swallowed one, they should be taken to A&E immediately.

The safety body warns that small children are at higher risk due to their tendency to put things in their mouths, and people should be particularly vigilant to button batteries with a diameter of 20mm or more as they are more likely to get stuck in the throat.

British and Irish Portable Battery Association chairman, Frank Imbescheid, said:

These batteries are increasingly being used in many household essentials making everyday life more convenient.

"However, as they are more powerful than alternatives, it is important that consumers have the right information and advice to be able to keep their children safe.

“The portable battery industry remains committed to working collaboratively on this issue; whether that be on safety standards to improve child resistant packaging, placing warning icons on such batteries, or investigating new technologies and design and providing education materials.”

Professor Derek Burke, a consultant in paediatric medicine who advised the investigation team, said: “Treatment and management of children under five even when a button/coin cell battery is suspected or known is a major challenge for frontline clinicians. This is made even harder when unknown due to the nature of symptoms and other conditions that need to be considered.”

There is a significant risk to small children from swallowing button batteries — they can become lodged in the oesophagus (food pipe) and can cause a chemical reaction that erodes tissue in just two hours.

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