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Button batteries are sending more children to the emergency room than in decades past

The annual rate of children’s battery-related emergency room visits more than doubled in the last decade compared to the previous two, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzing records from an injury database estimated that, between 2010 and 2019, there were more than 70,000 emergency room visits by children under the age of 18 related to batteries that were swallowed or inserted into the mouth, the nose or ears. That compares with an estimate of about 68,000 over two decades earlier, from 1990 to 2009, according to the report in Pediatrics.

“Our study shows a hidden danger in the home: batteries, particularly button cell batteries,” said study first author Mark Chandler, senior research associate at Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit organization that works to protect children. children from preventable injuries, the organization’s No. 1 killer of children in the U.S. “Button batteries are the small, disc-shaped batteries used to power a growing number of devices, including remote controls, toys, watches, and key rings.”

“Many devices have battery compartments that would not be considered childproof,” Chandler told TODAY. “That’s why it’s so important for parents and caregivers to know how to keep loose batteries and battery-powered devices out of the reach of children.”

Parents may not realize that small batteries are much more dangerous for children to swallow than other small objects, said Dr. Mary Beth Howard, a pediatric emergency physician at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“Button cells and lithium batteries are particularly dangerous,” said Howard, who was not involved in the new research. “When they come into contact with bodily fluids, a current is generated and that produces a small amount of sodium hydroxide, which is also known as lye. It is highly corrosive and can burn a hole through tissue. You can imagine that a hole in the esophagus, stomach, ear canal or nasal septum is a serious injury that can cause illness and even death in some cases.”

Even dead batteries can still be a hazard, Chandler said. A parent might change a device’s battery and leave the old one on a coffee table or some other surface that’s easily within reach of a young child, thinking it’s not a problem because she’s dead, she added.

“The problem is that those dead batteries contain enough residual charge that, if swallowed, they can cause tissue damage,” Chandler said. “A safer method of disposing of button cell batteries is to wrap the battery… horizontally and vertically in two layers of tape immediately after removal from a disposal device. This has been shown to help reduce injury if swallowed.”

The sealed battery should still be removed immediately if a child swallows it, Chandler said.

Parents should “treat button batteries the same way they treat cleaning chemicals or knives in the kitchen,” said Dr. Christopher Strother, director of pediatric emergency medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. York. “You should store them so children can’t get to them and then dispose of them properly.”

“I don’t think you can stop kids from putting things in their mouths,” Strother said. “They explore the world by trying and feeling things. It’s just a matter of making sure things that could be dangerous are out of reach.”

Parents who see their child swallow a battery should give him two teaspoons of honey before heading to the emergency room, Strother said. “Recent studies have shown that honey can help protect the child by coating the battery and also by neutralizing the chemical reactions that are taking place.”

Strother noted that honey should not be given to children under one year of age.

To assess if Battery-related emergency room visits among children had increased Given the growing number of devices using smaller batteries, Chandler and colleagues turned to data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which includes data on patient demographics, injury diagnoses, parts of the affected body, disposition and consumer products involved.

The researchers determined that there were 70,322 battery-related emergency room visits among patients under the age of 18 between 2010 and 2019, with an average of 7,032 per year, or 9.5 visits per 100,000 children. The highest rate was among children aged 5 years and younger: 24.5 per 100,000, compared with 2.2 per 100,000 in older children. The largest number of battery-related emergency room visits was in 1-year-olds. Most of the patients were discharged from the emergency room, but 12% were hospitalized.

Among records that included expected battery use, the most frequently mentioned device was watches at 29.7%, followed by toys and games at 28.8%, hearing aids at 10.4%, remote controls with 9.8%, flashlights with 6.4% and all other products. to 14.9%.

The rate of emergency room visits over the past decade (9.5 visits per 100,000 children per year) was 2.1 times higher than that reported between 1990 and 2009: 4.6 per 100,000 children per year. year.


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