Parents are being urged to be aware of the danger button batteries can pose for their children following the death of a child who swallowed one.
The small, round batteries are commonly found in toys, remote controls and car fobs, but can be deadly if swallowed.
When the battery comes into contact with a wet surface such as a throat, nose or ear, a chemical reaction can begin and cause it to release its current, causing significant damage to the surrounding tissue.
Within a couple of hours, serious internal burns can happen in the upper chest region, leading to long-term problems with breathing and swallowing.
If a child is thought to have swallowed one, they should be taken to A&E immediately.
Dr Rachel Rowlands, of Leicester Royal Infirmary, said the batteries can cause fatal injuries even if they do not have enough charge to power a device, so it is important they are disposed of properly.
‘I would urge everyone this Christmas to be aware of the dangers button batteries can cause if swallowed or put into the nose or ear,’ she added.
‘Parents or carers should bring their child to the nearest emergency department immediately if they think a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery.’
The The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch has issued the warning after it began an investigation into the death of a child who swallowed a button battery earlier this year.
Although the inquiry has not yet been completed, it said the evidence gathered so far is strong enough to issue the safety message before Christmas.
It warned that small children are at higher risk due to their tendency to put things in their mouths, and people should be particularly vigilant to button batteries with a diameter of 20mm or more as they are a choking hazard.
What to do if you think your child has swallowed a button battery
- Vomiting bright red, fresh blood
- Showing signs of something stuck in the throat like coughing, gagging or drooling a lot
- Appear to have a stomach upset or a virus
- Point to their throat or stomach
- Loss of appetite
What to do if you suspect your child has swallowed a battery
- Call 999, or visit your local hospital immediately
- Tell the doctor there that you think your child has swallowed a button battery
- If you have the battery packaging or the product powered by the battery, take it with you. This will help the doctor identify the type of battery and make treatment easier
- Do not let your child eat or drink
- Do not make them sick
- Trust your instincts and act fast – do not wait to see if any symptoms develop
Source: Child Accident Prevention Trust
HSIB medical director Dr Kevin Stewart said: ‘These batteries pose a very real risk to small children and babies, and the consequences of swallowing a button battery can be truly devastating.
‘This is why we are calling on families this festive period to be extra vigilant and to put in place some basic precautions around their house.
‘It’s important that everybody knows that these batteries can be found everywhere, from toys to gadgets such as remote controls, digital scales and car fobs.
‘The best way to protect children is to place everything securely out of reach and double check that all toys have screws to secure any batteries.’
More information on button batteries and their dangers can be found on the Child Accident Prevention Trust website.