UK’s top paediatric doctors warn of devastating impact of button batteries

22 Sep 2016, 8:56 a.m.

Doctors at leading children’s hospitals in the UK have joined together to raise awareness of the dangers of button batteries, after seeing a sharp rise in the number of children suffering severe injuries after swallowing them.

Great Ormond Street Hospital alone has seen a 60% increase in the number of children admitted from across of the UK after accidentally swallowing button batteries over the past year. Many of these children have suffered internal burns that have left holes in their internal organs. Around one child a month is now admitted compared to one a year five years ago.

Experts at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Sheffield Children’s Hospital, are now highlighting the devastating impact that button batteries can have on the lives of children and families, the warning signs of to look out for and the urgent action to take if you believe your child has swallowed a battery. They are recommending that button batteries are treated with the same caution as medicines, bleaches, and poisons in the home.

Button batteries are found in household items including watches and clocks, bathroom scales, toys, television remote controls and bicycle lights. The more widely available and powerful they become, the more of a danger they pose to young children. Even used batteries, which stop working in our electronics, cause significant injuries.

If button batteries are swallowed and get stuck in the oesophagus, they can cause holes in the child’s oesophagus and windpipe in the space of just a few hours. Damage to this area can affect a child’s ability to eat, drink, swallow or breathe and can even cause death. Children have spent as long as eight months being treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital after swallowing batteries and individual children have undergone more than 50 operations and procedures.

Great Ormond Street Hospital has the largest number of paediatric specialities on one site in the UK, with staff who are experienced in treating children with some of the most complex conditions, and much of this expertise is needed to treat children who become critically ill as a result of swallowing a button battery. This ranges from surgeons who perform pioneering repair surgery on the airways, to interventional radiologist who carry out complex scanning procedures, and clinical nurse specialists and psychologists who look after the well-being of the whole family in hospital and beyond.

Warning signs that a child has swallowed a button battery include excess dribbling or trouble swallowing, vomiting, coughing, choking, and unexplained chest infections. In under four hours, a swallowed button battery can cause life threatening injuries, so families are advised to take their child straight to their local accident and emergency department, while avoiding their children eating, drinking or vomiting, if they are worried their child might have swallowed a button battery.

Kate Cross, Consultant Neonatal and Paediatric Surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital, says: “Button batteries are found in lots of domestic items that we all use every day and it’s easy to forget how powerful they are and how dangerous they can be. We can all help keep our families safer by storing batteries in secure places before and after they’re used, preventing more children and families having to go through the traumatic experience of these serious injuries.”