Signs your child has swallowed a button battery

Recently we posted about a tragic case we have had to pursue against Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital after a toddler who had swallowed a lithium “button” battery and went to the ER at the hospital and an emergency room doctor failed to treat the little girl, Ava-Kate, with urgency.  Consequently, Ava-Kate suffered critical burns and scarring on her esophagus.  Since then, the toddler is continuing treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital, having undergone more than 18 procedures to improve the scarring on her throat. She’s on a puree and liquid diet.
When they took her to the ER, the emergency room doctor told Ava Kate’s parents that it was like a coin so it would be ok.  But after a series of delays, Thorne and Ava-Kate’s father, Cole Parsons, found out it wasn’t OK.  According to the interview Ava-Kate’s parents did, the ER doctor finally consulted with the GI doctor and he examined the little girl.  Then, the parents were informed of the gravity of the situation. “There was an electrical current from that battery in her esophagus and that we had to get her into emergency surgery right away,” Parsons said.  The battery was extracted about six hours after she ingested it and that long period of time caused chemical burn and corrosion in her esophagus.
The lawyers at Edwards & Ragatz found there’s nationally recognized guidelines recommending removal of the same battery within a two-hour window to avoid serious damage.  Why is time of the essence? When swallowed, these small batteries get stuck in the esophagus.  The saliva triggers an electric current which causes a chemical reaction that can severely burn the esophagus in as little as two hours.
Time is of essence of someone swallows a button battery.  According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

  • More than 80 kids nationwide have suffered permanent damage from injuries caused by ingesting button batteries.
  • Fifteen children have died — 11 of them within the last six years.
  • In 2010, more than 3,400 kids swallowed button batteries

What are the signs that your child may have swallowed a button battery?

  • A sudden onset of crying (some children may not be in pain)
  • Drooling
  • Decreased eating or drinking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Abdominal pain, blood in saliva and stool

Parents or caretakers should know that these batteries can be found anywhere in the home and think of it as a possibility if a child is in distress. Lithium “button” batteries can be found in many household items like remotes, key fobs and even musical Christmas cards. It’s recommended those items be kept somewhere where children can’t reach them or that the battery cover be secured with duct tape.
If your child swallows any type of battery, this is considered an emergency and you should immediately take your child to a hospital emergency department.
Your child’s pediatrician is a phone call away. If your child swallows something, don’t wait for symptoms to appear. If you are uncertain or concerned about something your child has swallowed, you can also contact the National Capital Poison Center hotline: 1-800-222-1222.
Remember, prevention of ingestion is key. Encourage children to play with age-appropriate toys. Closely monitor and always observe your child as he or she grows, develops and explores the world.

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