Lithium or button batteries are the tiny batteries found in many toys, musical greeting cards, household appliances, and remote controls. Many parents, however, remain unaware of the safety hazards button batteries pose to their little one. While they may look harmless to you, if they are ingested they may choke the child or cause a lethal chemical reaction.
Parents all over the world are advised to clean out their junk drawers or boxes and get rid of old lithium batteries or store them in a closed box, tin, or container out of reach of children. Also, make sure to buy toys only from reputable manufacturers. These trusted brands make their products in a way that batteries cannot easily be accessed by young children.
A terrible death from internal bleeding
The shiny round shape of these small batteries easily attracts young children. Since they are about the same size of a smartie, toddlers often think it’s candy and pop it in their mouths. Once the battery is ingested it creates an electrical current which, in combination with salvia, produces sodium hydroxide or caustic soda.
When this happens, holes can burn through the esophagus. Once past the esophagus wall, caustic acid continues to burn through major blood vessels leading to internal bleeding, causing potentially fatal damage within a couple of hours.
‘The child can bleed to death,” Dr. Kate Parkins, a pediatrician and consultant at Manchester University Hospitals Trust, explained to the Daily Mail Online.
Once major internal hemorrhaging starts, it is almost impossible to stop. Also, if enough sodium hydroxide has built up the burning will continue, even though the battery has been removed, causing death up to a week after the removal.
What’s more, these tiny batteries don’t even need to be damaged or swallowed to cause severe injuries. Only a few minutes sucking on one of these batteries can cause terrible oral burns that may affect the child for life.
Lethal battery-swallowing cases on the rise
Since 1985, the number of battery-swallowing cases in America resulting in major or fatal injuries has increased six-fold. The symptoms of swallowing a lithium battery include vomiting, nausea, fever, and coughing. These, however, are often overlooked by doctors who may misdiagnose them as heartburn or a digestive issue.
In one case, it took doctors nearly eight weeks after the first visit to figure out what was wrong with 18-month-old Ellie Gatrell. By the time they removed the battery, scar tissue had narrowed Ellie’s throat so much that she was put on a liquid diet until her body was strong enough to undergo a series of operations – one only two weeks after the initial operation to remove the battery and four more over the following five months.
Some, however, are less fortunate than little Ellie. Last year, a two-year-old girl died after swallowing a button battery in the United States. Just a few days after Christmas, Brianna Florer started to vomit blood and turned blue. She was rushed to the hospital, where she died after two hours of emergency surgery attempting to stop the internal bleeding caused by a lithium battery.
And she is not alone. In 2013, a four-year-old Australian girl, Summer Steer, died after swallowing a lithium battery. She vomited half a liter of blood and was sent home twice before she died. One doctor diagnosed her with a simple nose bleed. Only after an X-ray was taken, was the battery was found. But it was too late. She died from a cardiac failure two hours later.