Doctors urge parents to be on high alert for small batteries found in household products
A new federal law signed last month drew attention to the potential dangers of small batteries that are found in many household devices.
Doctors want parents to be on alert about the harm button batteries can cause to children if accidentally swallowed.
The tiny, shiny lithium batteries look like coins and can be attractive to curious children. Some children are going to emergency rooms with life-threatening injuries after accidentally swallowing the button batteries.
Last year, 3-year-old Atarah ingested a lithium button battery. Her mom had no idea what happened, but she noticed her daughter had difficulty eating and showed little interest in her food.
She brought Atarah to the gastroenterologist and the radiologist to check for a blockage in her stomach. An X-ray showed the tiny battery lodged in the child's esophagus.
"Imagining her having that thing in her throat for a long time and I didn't even know about it, I just burst out crying," said Elmitas Jean, of Westbury.
They immediately rushed to the emergency department at Cohen Children's Medical Center, where a team of doctors were waiting. It took Dr. Neha Patel, a pediatric otolaryngologist, an hour to remove the battery from Atarah's esophagus. She said it was one of the most difficult cases she ever saw.
One of the reasons button batteries are so dangerous is that they can cause an electrochemical reaction and burn through the esophagus. They can be found in everyday household devices such as remote controls, tea lights, flameless candles, garage door openers and more.
Atarah's battery had been stuck for so long that her esophagus looked like minced meat.
"It's kind of like a small bomb explodes in your throat," Dr. Patel says. "You could have damage to your body within 15 minutes of battery ingestion. Within 2 hours, you can have permanent damage."
If a button battery damages the aorta, a child could have life-threatening bleeding that happens weeks later and, in some cases, even death.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said they are aware of at least 10 reported deaths among children between 2017 and 2021. Their ages range from 15 months to two years old.
In 2021, Dr. Patel saw six separate cases in a two-month period.
"And that's a drastic increase. I think button batteries are more readily available. They're in household items. They're part of modern living," Dr. Patel added.
According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, there were 70,322 battery-related emergency department visits among children 18 years and younger between 2010 and 2019—twice as many visits as the previous decade.
Team 12 Investigates asked five major hospital systems on Long Island what they are seeing. We found none keep track of this data, but doctors said they are treating around five to 10 patients a year with this issue.
In August, President Biden signed Reese's Law in memory of an 18-month-old child who died weeks after swallowing a button battery. The law requires CPSC staff to establish new product safety standards for button batteries regarding packaging and warning labels.
Dr. Patel said if a child ingested a button battery, some signs may include drooling, refusing to eat, difficulty swallowing and noisy breathing.
"The minute you have a suspicion that a child had swallowed something, you want to go to the emergency room right away because time is of the essence here," Dr. Patel says.
From now on, Atarah's mom is not taking any chances. She urges other parents not to change out batteries in front of children to keep them out of reach.
"Anything that's small, put it away," Jean says. "Put it where they won't be able to see it."