Are you aware of the common household item that is seeing four children admitted to the emergency department each week?

An estimated four children per week in Australia present to an emergency department with a button battery related injury, warns KidsSafe Australia.

In light of the recent tragic deaths of several young children, The Office of Fair Trading and KidsSafe Australia are urging parents to be aware of hidden dangers around the home that can cause unintentional injury or death.

Kidsafe Queensland CEO Susan Teerds says swallowing button batteries often occurs with children under the age of five, however there have been cases involving children up to the age of 12.

The coin-sized lithium button batteries can lodge in the throats of children, where saliva immediately triggers an electrical current, causing a chemical reaction that can severely burn through the oesophagus in as little as two hours.

“Button batteries present a problem whether they are ingested or inserted in an ear or nose; wherever they have prolonged local contact with the body.

“Damage occurs when the battery charge generates a chemical reaction that causes a localised caustic injury,” she says.

She says it is vital to detect a swallowed battery as soon as possible because of the nature of the threat involved, as damage can occur after one to two hours.

“While most other ingested foreign objects will pass through the gastrointestinal tract without causing any concerns, button batteries, depending on their size, have a tendency to lodge in the oesophagus… and can erode through into vital organs, causing catastrophic damage and sometimes death.”

Teerds suggests if parents believe their child has swallowed a battery to seek medical attention immediately and not give any food or water to the child.

Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit’s Director Dr Ruth Barker says an estimated four children per week in Australia present to an emergency department with a button battery related injury.

“A significant problem arises when the parent does not know that their child has ingested or inserted a button battery. This is particularly so for children under the age of three, who are more likely to ingest a foreign body and not be able to tell someone about it.

“Unfortunately, symptoms can mimic common childhood conditions, with vomiting, drooling and cough.” Dr Barker says.

Dr Barker says one of the greatest risks is when parents are changing or discarding batteries that are flat in reach of children, as flat or dead batteries still contain enough life to generate an electrical current once ingested.

Fair Trading acting executive director David McKarzel says parents need to be forever vigilant with these hazards and keep them out of the reach of children.

“Parents assume that their children are safe in the home, and by following a few simple steps, they can be,” Mr McKarzel says.

He says lithium button batteries are used in many toys and household electrical items such as remote controls, watches, hearing aids, bathroom scales and musical greeting cards.

“Serious injuries occur to children after swallowing these types of batteries including
choking, soft tissue burns, perforation of the oesophagus or internal bleeding.

Symptoms of swallowing a button battery include chest pain, coughing, nausea or vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever.

What you should do:

Make sure that any toys that use button batteries have a secure battery compartment, such as a screw to ensure the battery stays in the toy even after some rugged wear and tear.

Keep coin-sized batteries, and household appliances that use them, out of reach of children.

Dispose of old batteries immediately and safely.

Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.

Other household dangers include:

Hair straighteners– they can heat up to more than 200 degrees in under 10 minutes and can take more than 30 minutes to cool down to a safe temperature. Keep hair straighteners and cords out of reach while they cool down.

Blind and curtain cords– these are a strangulation hazard if a child places their head in the loop created by the cord. Cut the cord so it does not form a loop, or tie the ends up out of reach.

Treadmills– this exercise machine can cause serious friction burns to children if they come in contact with the moving platform. Keep children away from the treadmill while in use, and unplug it and raise the platform when not in use.

Portable pools– Even with very little water portable pools are a drowning hazard. Close adult supervision is essential.