Button Battery Injuries Among Children On the Rise: Study

As an increasing number of electronic devices are using small, button-sized batteries, the number of serious and potentially life-threatening injuries associated with these button batteries has also been increasing, causing concerns among physicians. 

According to a new study published in the June issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, emergency room visits involving children who were injured by small batteries has more than doubled over the past twenty years.

Researchers used the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System to track battery-related emergency room visits in the United States from 1990 to 2009. They looked at injuries linked to swallowing, mouth exposure, and insertion into ears and the nose, finding that over that time period an estimated 65,788 youths under 18 visited emergency rooms due to battery-related injuries. Most of those injuries occurred in boys and the mean age was four years old. More than three-quarters of the injuries were due to the button-sized batteries being swallowed.

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Over the course of the study, the number of emergency room visits per year has risen, with the most significant increases coming in the last eight years. In 1990, the number of button-battery ER visits was 1,301. By 2009, that number had more than doubled, reaching 2,785.

Fortunately, about 92 percent of the children who visit the ER for battery-related injuries are treated and released. However, the small batteries do pose a risk of severe internal damage and other injuries that can cause more serious problems. The batteries can get lodged in the esophagus and create a small current which could burn a hole. In some cases, the hole could lead into the aorta, potentially allowing the child to bleed to death.

Dr. Gary A. Smith, the lead researcher and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has said that the findings are a sign that manufacturers need to take steps to reduce the risks of child injury from button-sized batteries, and parents need to be made more aware of the dangers.

The researchers suggest a focus on child-resistant battery covers as one potential avenue. They also point out that it is not just toys, but numerous household devices that these batteries are coming from, such as remote controls and flashlights.


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