Many children’s toys, electronic games and other gadgets like hearing aids and watches use small coin-shaped lithium-based batteries that are catnip to kids. In 2010, more than 3,400 children swallowed lithium batteries; two died and 19 had serious complications such as a perforated aorta.
The most dangerous batteries measure about 20 mm and can easily get stuck in children’s narrow throats. Although children have been swallowing batteries for years, the newer ones pose a particular threat because they’re bigger and pack twice the voltage of older batteries. “The problem is when a battery gets stuck in the esophagus. If it sits there and doesn’t move, it can erode through the esophagus wall causing a lot of pain,” says Teach.
Severe burns can develop within two hours, as Healthland’s Bonnie Rochman reported in September:
Once the lithium batteries are swallowed, saliva triggers an electrical current that releases a chemical reaction that can scorch the esophagus and damage vocal chords; the chemical reactions can continue once the batteries are removed. Feeding tubes are often required, and corrective surgeries are not always successful.
To prevent injury, parents should be careful not to let their kids play with any gadgets that use button batteries and don’t have a child-proof battery compartment.