Button Battery Ingestions: How Dangerous Is it in Kids?

Ian N. Jacobs, MD


November 28, 2011

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Hello. My name is Dr. Ian Jacobs. I'm a Pediatric Otolaryngologist at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. I'm here to talk to you today about a very important and vital topic: the ingestion of lithium batteries in small children. This is becoming a more prevalent issue as lithium batteries are becoming more commonplace in the household. Small children like to put all sorts of objects in their mouths, the most common being the penny, but lithium batteries are a very dangerous problem.

Lithium batteries can go undetected and [the swallowing of them can] be unwitnessed. Symptoms may be rather vague respiratory symptoms easily confused with other upper respiratory problems. It's very important to have a high index of suspicion when things just don't add up.

A chest x-ray, as shown here, shows a typical lithium battery with a black halo around it, which is different from a coin or a penny which would not have that rim. Anytime this is seen, this becomes an urgent emergency and the battery has to be removed immediately or as soon as possible. The damage from the lithium, which is usually on one side of the battery, will occur in a matter of hours so it's very important to get these children to care as soon as possible.

The best treatment for [swallowing of] lithium batteries is avoidance, and that's why Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is mounting a public-awareness campaign now for the holidays. It is very important for parents to keep these objects out of the reach of small children.


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