Swallowed Button Batteries Pose Serious Risk, Often Requiring Surgical Removal: Study

When a child swallows a small button battery, a new study recommends that doctors immediately remove it endoscopically, instead of heeding previous recommendations to wait and see if it to passes naturally, since the batteries could cause serious internal injuries.

In findings presented this week at a “Digestive Disease Week” conference in San Deigo, researchers indicate that even if swallowed button batteries are not causing severe symptoms, they can result in serious damage to the stomach or intestines before they pass through the digestive tract, potentially resulting in fatal complications.

Researchers from Children’s Hospital, in Colorado, conducted a study that collected data from doctors at pediatric hospitals in Colorado, Florida, Texas and Ohio. This included 68 button battery ingestions from January 2014 to May 2018.

Among the ingestions, 60% of cases suffered serious erosive injuries to the lining of the stomach. Researchers also found no link between damage to the stomach, symptoms, and the amount of time passing since ingestion.

According to the findings, button batteries can damage the stomach lining quickly after a child swallows it. The child may not even experience symptoms before damage to the stomach has been done.

The researchers recommend doctors consider immediate endoscope removal, even when the child is symptom free and the battery has passed through the esophagus. Removing the battery earlier also avoids repeated trips to the emergency room or doctor’s office to receive repetitive imaging.

Current recommendations made by the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hematology and Nutrition and the National Capital Poison Center, which runs the National Battery Ingestion Hotline, recommend doctors observe the child to see if the battery passes. If there are no symptoms, especially if it’s been less than two hours since the child swallowed it or the battery is smaller than 20 mm and the child is at least five years old, doctors should wait for the battery to pass.

However, the new study recommends a change from the practice of watching and waiting.

Swallowed battery injuries have increased in recent years and doctors have seen more serious injuries as a result.

Button batteries come in many different objects, including toys, remote controls, key fobs and watches.

Parents and caretakers are advised to store batteries in a safe place out of the reach of children. When replacing a battery, they should be disposed of and not left lying around.

If a child swallows a battery, seek immediate medical attention before serious damage can be done.

The findings were presented May 18, at the annual Digestive Disease Week meeting in San Diego. Studies presented at conferences are considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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