15 December 2015

As presents are ripped open to reveal the latest electronic toys and devices this Christmas button batteries should be kept out of children’s reach, NSW Health has warned.

Every year, around 100 children as young as 12 months of age are treated at NSW hospital emergency departments after swallowing button batteries, which can cause serious health concerns or even death if not immediately treated.

The batteries which cause the most damage are silver and shiny and about the size of a five cent coin (20mm).

Dr John Curotta, Head of the Department of Ear Nose and Throat Surgery at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, said button batteries could stick in the throat and cause severe injury including alkali burns, perforation, infection and internal bleeding.

“If a child swallows a button battery it is an emergency, and that child must receive immediate medical attention,” Dr Curotta said. “They should not be given food or drink and vomiting should not be induced.

“Surgery or endoscopies may be carried out to remove button batteries that become stuck.

“Prevention is key so it’s important that parents and other carers make sure that toys, devices or equipment that require button batteries such as remote controls, keyboards, musical devices and digital thermometers are thoroughly checked to ensure the batteries are safely secured and can’t be accessed by small children.”

People should also remember not to leave packets of replacement batteries or used batteries lying around the house. They should instead be locked away so that small children cannot put them in their mouths. Even when “flat” these batteries still have enough charge in them to cause severe internal injury.

In many cases, children swallowing button batteries went undiagnosed for days.

“If parents have not seen their child physically swallow the battery, they often don’t realise what is causing their child’s illness,” Dr Curotta said.

“If in any doubt at all, take your child to an emergency department immediately. Every minute counts and the button battery must be removed as soon as possible through surgery before it causes long-term damage.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry so take that extra care this Christmas to keep button batteries out of reach. We all want to remember Christmas 2015 for the right reasons.”

NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe reiterated the need for parents and carers to be vigilant about the presence of button batteries in the home.

“Even batteries that are no longer working in an appliance are still dangerous to a child when discarded, so safe disposal is a must,” Commissioner Stowe said.