Every year in the United States, more than 3,500 people of all ages swallow button batteries. These are used to power hearing aids, watches, toys, games, flashing jewelry, singing greeting cards, remote control devices, and many other items.
Most button batteries pass through the body and are eliminated in the stool. However, sometimes batteries get “hung up,” and these are the ones that cause problems. A battery that is stuck in the esophagus is especially likely to cause tissue damage. An electrical current can form around the outside of the battery, generating hydroxide (an alkaline chemical), and causing a tissue burn. When a battery is swallowed, it is impossible to know whether it will pass through or get “hung up.”
IN THE NOSE
Button batteries may also cause permanent injury when they are placed in the nose or the ears. Young children and elderly people have been particularly involved in this kind of incident. Symptoms to watch for are pain and/or a discharge from the nose or ears. DO NOT use nose or ear drops until the person has been examined by a physician, as these fluids can cause additional injury if a battery is involved.
If anyone ingests a battery, this is what you should do:
- Immediately call the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 800-498-8666 or CALL COLLECT 202 625 3333.
- If readily available, provide the battery identification number, found on the package or from a matching battery.
- In most cases, an x-ray must be obtained right away to be sure that the battery has gone through the esophagus into the stomach. (If the battery remains in the esophagus, it must be removed immediately. Most batteries move on to the stomach and can be allowed to pass by themselves.) Based on the age of the patient and the size of the battery, the National Battery Ingestion Hotline specialists can help you determine if an immediate x-ray is required.
- Don’t induce vomiting. Don’t eat or drink until the x-ray shows the battery is beyond the esophagus.
- Watch for fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, or blood in the stools. Report these symptoms immediately.
- Check the stools until the battery has passed.
- Your physician or the emergency room may call the National Button Battery Ingestion Hotline at 800-498-8666 for a consultation about button batteries. Expert advice is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.