(NEW YORK) -- The number of children being taken to emergency departments with battery ingestions is on the rise, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
In total, more than 65,000 visits involving kids who had ingested batteries occurred over the past 20 years. In the overwhelming majority, button batteries were the culprits.
These tiny batteries are becoming more and more ubiquitous as more devices powered by small lithium batteries -- the shiny, button-sized variety -- make their way into our homes.
So what makes these batteries so dangerous? Part of the problem is that lithium batteries are especially appealing to the child's eye, as they can mimic candies and can easily fit into small mouths, ears or noses. Occasionally, if a child swallows one of these batteries, it can pass through his or her body without incident. But this isn't always the case.
Dr. Ian Jacobs, associate professor of ear, nose and throat at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, explains that if a lithium battery stays lodged in the esophagus for more than two hours, the battery can erode through the soft tissue of the esophagus and cause a hole. This can be fatal.
Children who survive still face serious health issues. They may experience permanent paralysis of the vocal cords that may forever rob them of their speech. These batteries can also be harmful if lodged in other places. They can burn through the cartilage in the nose or into the inner ear, causing hearing loss or difficulty breathing.
Dr. Toby Litovitz, executive and medical director of the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C., has done extensive research on the major and fatal outcomes associated with button battery ingestions and maintains a national database on these and other incidents. She found in a separate study that from 1985 to 2009 there was almost a seven-fold increase in the percentage of button battery ingestions with major or fatal outcomes.
So what can parents do to prevent these potentially fatal ingestions? The first step is to keep the batteries out of children's reach.
Lithium batteries can be found in laptops, iPads, remote car keys, calculators, cameras, bathroom scales, digital thermometers, talking books, video games and even musical greeting cards.
Litovitz recommended that parents "be vigilant and look at every product at home to see if it has a battery compartment that can be opened by the child and [if so, make sure it is] secured with heavy tape. If not, it needs to be treated like a medication -- up high, out of reach and locked up."
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