In December 2020, 17-month-old Reese Hamsmith died after swallowing a tiny button battery that caused a hole in her esophagus. Reese’s mom, who started the group Reese’s Purpose to advocate for safer batteries, shared her story to warn other parents, saying that battery ingestion is more common than people realize.
Lithium coin batteries are small, thin, discs about the size of a quarter that are used to power devices such as thermometers, scales, key fobs and more. These present the greatest small battery danger to young children as they are similar in size to a child’s esophagus. If a lithium coin battery gets lodged in a child’s esophagus, a chemical reaction can occur and damage or even burn through the esophagus, making an accidental ingestion of a lithium coin battery potentially life-threatening. Earlier this month, Duracell announced it is teaming up with The American Academy of Pediatrics to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of lithium coin batteries and prevent ingestions.
Now, with more kids spending time at home due to COVID-19, the chances of children swallowing these small yet potentially lethal batteries have increased.
“The pandemic has caused us to spend more time in our homes, and there are devices everywhere that may include small lithium coin batteries that are a hidden danger,” says pediatrician Ben Hoffman, MD, FAAP, chair of the Council on Injury, Violence, & Poison Prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Hoffman said that over the past two decades, there’s been an increase in emergencies where young children have swallowed lithium coin batteries and button batteries, sometimes with devastating results. “This has only gotten worse as a result of the pandemic, with curious kids exposed to the risk of these batteries for more hours of the day,” he said.
Because kids are curious and built to explore it makes sense that they would put things in their mouths to explore. This is why parents need to know where lithium coin batteries might be found in the home – for example in remote controls, games and toys and key fobs that may be left out on the table.
“It’s really important to make sure the batteries are secure in these devices, such as with a screw closure when available, or even a piece of strong tape,” says Hoffman. “Also, make sure you store unused batteries away where children cannot get them. As another layer of precaution, you can look for lithium coin batteries that come in child-secure packaging and have a bitter coating, which may help to deter accidental ingestions. It is also important to make sure to dispose of old lithium coin batteries in ways that ensure that kids can’t get to them.”
If you think your baby or child has swallowed a battery try to remain calm and take him or her to the ER immediately.
“The sooner the battery is removed the better,” says Ernest G. Leva, MD, FAAP, Director, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “If the battery is found in the esophagus or stomach it can be removed and the likely hood of perforation is decreased. Generally, the window of opportunity is eight hours.”
“Even if they are not showing symptoms, the battery can start to cause serious damage within just two hours,” says Hoffman. “While en route to the hospital, you can give your child 2 teaspoons of honey, if they are over one year of age, which can help reduce injury to the esophagus,” says Hoffman. “You are able to give up to 6 doses of honey about 10 minutes apart. Be sure that you do not give your child anything else to eat or drink, however, and do not offer another dose of honey if your child vomits.”
If there’s a chance a child has swallowed a battery, he or she should be seen and X-rayed asap, says Leva.
Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious when a child has swallowed a battery, says Hoffman. “Some symptoms that you can look out for, however, include the sudden development of a cough, vomiting, swallowing difficulty, or just seeming sick and not themselves. Your child may also have throat or tummy discomfort and lose their appetite.”
Parents can act now by removing these batteries from their homes and by definitely keeping them out of their children’s reach and also by purchasing products such as Duracell lithium coin battery with bitter coating which helps to discourage swallowing and comes in child secure packaging. Through Duracell’s “Power Safely” initiative, Duracell and the AAP hope to prevent more tragedies and give parents the information they need to keep their homes and little ones safe.