GOSH issues button battery and magnetic toy warning to Christmas shoppers

7 Dec 2020, 2:57 p.m.

Christmas shoppers are being urged to think about the dangers of button batteries and magnets when buying toys for children this festive season.

Young children can be incredibly curious and swallowing a button battery or magnet can be life threatening or life altering. Parents should take their child to hospital immediately if they think they could have swallowed one of these items.

The warning comes as doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) have seen first-hand the life changing effect these items can have if they are swallowed by children.

The dangers of button batteries and magnetic toys

Joe Curry, senior consultant and specialist in neonatal and paediatric surgery at GOSH, said: “An active button battery would burn through a steak in 30 minutes and this is the same with the oesophagus.

“Swallowing a button battery would cause burns through the windpipe and trachea and cause a child’s lungs to become flooded. This kind of damage could cause difficulties with swallowing and breathing for the rest of their life.”

Magnetic toys, which have become a new craze in schools, also pose similar dangers. The tiny colourful magnetic balls can be moulded together to make different shapes or sculptures, but if swallowed, can cause serious long term health conditions.

If the magnetic balls are swallowed unconnected to each other, the magnetic force will try to connect with others, which can rip holes within the intestine.

Mr Curry said: “We had a case this year in our intensive care unit (ICU) where a child swallowed some magnetic balls and the attractive force caused perforation of the bowel.

“This is really serious – swallowing a magnetic toy could cause peritonitis (an inflammation of the abdominal wall), require a temporary stoma to be fitted, require a child to have part of their bowel removed, or it could even be fatal.”

If either a button battery or a magnet is swallowed, lengthy surgery would be required to save a child’s life.

First-hand experience

Valerie Collins experienced the dangers of button batteries when her four-year-old daughter was admitted to GOSH this summer after accidentally swallowing a button battery.

Valerie initially thought her daughter had swallowed a 10p but immediately called 999 when she could not stop her daughter from coughing. She was taken to hospital and an X-ray confirmed that she had swallowed a button battery.

The youngster was taken to theatre the same day to remove the battery, which had badly eroded whilst in her oesophagus and stomach. Thankfully, she has made a full recovery and had no lasting damage to her oesophagus.

Valerie said: “With Christmas approaching, I would urge everyone buying presents for children to be mindful about the toys you buy. Lots of children’s toys can be very easy to take the batteries out of and many toys come with lots of different parts.

“Be careful about what you leave lying around the house and if you have young and curious children, make sure you keep things like batteries and magnets out of their reach and stored in tight containers.”

Simple tips to stay safe this Christmas

Mr Curry added: “The message is simple. Keep button batteries and magnets out of reach of young children and make sure toys which contain these items are only used under direct supervision.

“If toys have button batteries in, check the device regularly and make sure the battery is intact. Any time you remove a battery, make sure it is disposed of immediately.

“If you think your child has swallowed a button battery or a magnet, go straight to A&E. It is time critical to get a diagnosis and for the item to be removed.”

The Child Accident Prevention Trust is also supporting GOSH’s calls to Christmas shoppers and are urging parents to be careful where they buy toys from.

Katrina Phillips, Chief Executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust said: “If you buy from an online marketplace, toys may not meet UK safety standards. That’s because online marketplaces are simply offering a shop window to sellers around the world and aren’t legally required to check if a toy is safe before allowing it to be sold.

“We’ve seen toys with accessible button batteries that can burn through a child’s food pipe and powerful magnets that can burn through a child’s gut. If you can, head to reputable retailers or buy direct from the websites of well-known brand names. If you’re buying from an online marketplace, enter a reputable brand name when you search for the toy you want, to be sure it’s safe.”