Spotlighting a Little-Known Risk to Small Children

Nov 19 - mkamplain
Bradley County Mayor

Spotlighting a Little-Known Risk to Small Children

Parents have a lot to worry about these days when it comes to the safety of their children. Now there is one more thing to add to the list; lithium batteries. There is a wide variety of these small batteries that are used in a large number of consumer electronic devices such as TV remotes, calculators and thermometers. Even musical greeting cards and toys use them. They are known in the medical field as "button batteries. The Bradley County Health Department says they are injuring children at an alarming rate. 

There are numerous documented cases of children swallowing a small lithium battery with deadly results. Lurking inside these devices are some elements that can kill or seriously damage a child’s health in just a couple of hours. 

Eloise Waters, director of the Bradley County Health Department says any button battery can cause a problem but the 20 millimeter battery, about the size of a penny or nickel, is the greatest threat. It is easily swallowed by toddlers who are often tempted to put things in their mouth. The battery gets stuck in the child’s throat and in just a short time will usually begin to leak. The battery chemicals will burn through the child’s esophagus, creating long term health problems or even death.

The U.S. Poison Control Center reports that 3500 button battery ingestions are reported to poison centers each year. In at least 62 percent of the cases, officials say the children removed the batteries from the electronic devices themselves. Even dead batteries can cause a problem because the chemicals are still present. At least nine deaths have been recorded and those who survive can be left with life altering damage to their body. 

Unless you see the child swallow the battery it can be very difficult to diagnose. Eloise says the symptoms can mimic the flu, accompanied by vomiting, fever, coughing and a loss of appetite.

You should respond quickly if your child has swallowed a button battery by taking them to a hospital emergency room. Do not allow the child to eat or drink, and you should not induce vomiting.

The Poison Control Center says doctors only have about two hours to remove the battery before the body’s chemicals begin to act upon the battery casing and it begins to leak. Once it burns a hole in the esophagus the battery can quickly make its way to the bowels with deadly results.

The number of button battery ingestion cases where children were seriously hurt or died quadrupled between 2006 and 2010. That number is still on the rise, making it very important for parents and those who care for small children to be aware of the danger, especially to children 5 years of age or younger.

 If your child does start to develop flu-like symptoms, don't make the easy assumption. Check and see if any batteries are missing and act accordingly.

Always keep loose or spare batteries locked away, dispose of dead batteries and make sure your small electronic devices are out of reach of children. Also check to be sure the device’s battery compartment is secure and not easily opened.

We live in a hi-tech world and electronic devices are a part of daily life. They can provide information, enjoyment and entertainment. It only takes a little effort to make sure your device doesn’t turn deadly. For more information log on to or call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333.

I want to thank all of the folks at the Bradley County Health Department for the great job they do in providing healthcare for our citizens.  They are another reason I say that Bradley County is Tennessee at its best.

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