What to do if your child eats lithium batteries


LONG ISLAND, N.Y. (WPIX) – A doctor in New York is warning parents about the dangers of tiny batteries getting into the hands of young children during the holiday season.

Lithium button batteries are found in everyday household items like remotes, calculators and watches, but they’re also commonly used in electronic toys.

“Children love shiny things, and you can imagine, if a child saw a stash of batteries, they would want to touch it, and play with it, and explore,” said Neha Patel, MD, an otolaryngologist (ENT) with Northwell Health and the Director of Quality at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

In her office, Dr. Patel even has a “wall of shame” where she stores items she’s removed from children’s bodies over the years, among them lithium button batteries.

Button batteries are stronger, and can cause damage a lot faster than most batteries, she explains. There could be life-threatening consequences: Problems can occur within 15 minutes, and permanent damage within a couple of hours.

Incident rates have also increased nationally. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 70,000 children in the past decade went to the emergency room after swallowing batteries. On average, there’s one battery-related trip to the emergency room every 1.25 hours.

To avoid a potentially deadly outcome, Dr. Patel said prevention is vital. For example, when changing batteries, do so away from children. Store them in a safe compartment. Also, make sure they’re never easily accessible to kids. 

Parents should also watch for signs in the event a child ingests a battery while unattended. 

“They’re coughing more than usual. They’re drooling more than usual, they have some noisy breathing,” Dr. Patel said of possible red flags. “There are signs that there might be something in there.” 

It’s essential to call emergency services quickly. Once in contact with saliva, the battery can begin to cause damage to the mouth and esophagus. If the child is over 1 year of age, health experts recommend giving 2 teaspoons of honey every 10 minutes, which may coat the throat and reduce the risk of serious injury until medical help arrives.

Just like Dr. Patel, government officials are aiming to raise awareness of the issue, to slow down incident rates.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed a bill called Reese’s Law, named after 17-month-old Reese Elizabeth Hamsmith who died after swallowing a button battery in 2020. The law will require safer packaging and more visible warning labels on lithium button batteries.

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