Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Swallowing Button Batteries Can Cause A Quick Death in Children

I don't usually beg people to read my blog, but this is an issue I feel strongly about as it affected my family personally. Here's the short version: Keep those little button batteries out of your children's reach. 10% of children who swallow them will die. If you want the longer version and how I know, read on...

*UPDATE* If you have found me by searching because your child swallowed a button battery, please read this article first and then come back here to continue on.

Annika was 17 months old. Colby had purchased a new battery for our car key fob. He replaced the battery and then left the old battery along with the packaging on a table in the living room. As I came into the living room something drew my attention to the battery package, which no longer had the battery next to it. I quickly pointed to the package and asked where the battery was. At 17 months, Annika didn't have many words, but she did point at her belly. I frantically looked around for the battery, but knew in my heart she had swallowed it so I scooped her up and headed to the ER with battery package in hand.

At the ER, they were less than concerned about our situation. First off, Annika was perfectly happy and healthy with no outward sign of distress. Secondly, by looking at the packaging, the doctor assessed that there was no way she could have swallowed it without choking on it as it was so large. But I had the mother's intuition that told me she was telling the truth, so I persisted. Unfortunately, we were not high priority, so we waited around for hours. She napped, I paced. She played with rubber gloves, stethoscopes, tongue depressors... I paced.

Finally, we made our way to the X-Ray room. The X-Ray tech and doctor were in shock at what they saw...
The doctor then made a scramble to find a pediatric gastroenterologist in the state on a Saturday. Apparently, the only ones in the state are at Dartmouth Hitchcock and none were on call that day. So, he had to call Children's Hospital in Boston. The pediatric gastroenterologist there was not well versed in the battery situation and she wanted to research further. So, the ER sent me home and told me to come back in the morning to see if Annika had passed it by herself. If she hadn't, we would get back in touch with Children's to see what she had come up with.

We went back Sunday morning and it was in the exact same spot. The lack of movement over 24 hours signaled that it probably wasn't going to move. Now, if this were a penny, it would be much less frightening, as pediatricians usually tell you it is a common occurrence and it will pass. But batteries are filled with heinous chemicals and we were unsure of the consequences.

I could go on with the next 2 days of anxiety and waiting that ended up with us at Children's Hospital... but I'll spare you. Basically, the doctors were clueless on what to do. It had been in there 48 hours and they told us to decide: either operate to remove or wait it out. They did not have any advice on what would happen if the battery eroded in her. AND then... I read this article yesterday and I was in shock!

It stated, "The National Capital Poison Center said more than 3,000 people each year unintentionally swallow "button" batteries. Ten percent of kids who swallow button batteries die, according to the poison center... within eight to 10 hours, it can cause death." How did this major hospital not know this stuff? This was nearly 3 years ago, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. But please, please read this article and inform yourself.

Keep those batteries locked away. And IF your little one does swallow one, please know that you only have a matter of hours to deal with the situation. Make sure that the doctor recognizes the severity of the situation.

Oh, yeah... Annika passed it herself the next day. Yes, I did rummage through her diaper to find it. It was very eroded from her stomach acids. There were 3 sizable holes in it, with 1 nearly completely eroded though. Who knows how much longer until the alkali would have been released.

Why does parenting have to be so damn disturbing?


  1. I'm so glad everything turned out okay. So scary, and something that could easily happen to anyone. Thanks for the reminder and sharing your story.

  2. Being married to an ER nurse...this story had us talking for a long time. Even our little dinky hospital would have had the x-ray done and poison control notified before she was even checked in. If a baby swallows a potentially hazardous material, then all hands would have been on deck. No matter how much she was giggling. However, the outcome would have probably been the same. Does the risk of surgery out weigh the chances of natural expulsion? That's the tough decision, right?!

  3. Holy cow. Thanks for sharing this story. It's horrible to imagine my little man swallowing something and then just... dying! It's so scary how easily a life can end. And I had no idea a battery could be so dangerous. Yikes.
    Glad Annika was okay!

  4. How terrifying!! I will be sharing this article with my husband and passing it along on my blog. Its scary to think what can happen, and what we need to be informed on. Being a mommy is definitely hard work!!

  5. this is happening to us now...our 10.5-month-old swallowed a small button battery. We went to the ER and got an xray showing it was in the stomach/small intestine. We are going back to the ER (by their request) daily for xrays to continue monitoring its progress until it is passed. If it stops moving along the digestive route, I think the ER will be removing it. It is so nerve-whacking thinking how it could be destroying her tissues, but the "ER" says as long as it keeps moving and she poops it out she should be fine. We're at about 48-hrs since she ingested it. Both my husband and I had never seriously thought before about how dangerous a battery is.

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