Airway Injuries 'Devastating' After Battery Ingestions

Marcia Frellick

May 26, 2022

Severe airway injuries are a "not infrequent" consequence after children swallow button batteries, which are commonly found in many household electronics, according to a systematic review published online in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

Most literature has focused on esophageal injury, but "the direct apposition of the esophagus to the trachea and recurrent laryngeal nerves also places these children at risk of airway injury, such as tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) (a life-threatening complication), vocal cord paresis and paralysis, tracheal stenosis, and tracheomalacia," the researchers wrote.

Led by Justine Philteos, MD, of the department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Toronto, the researchers found that tracheoesophageal fistula and vocal cord paralyses were the two most common airway injuries and often required tracheostomy.

The review included 195 children pulled from the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC) database — more often young children — who had ingested the batteries. The average age at ingestion was 17.8 months and the average time between ingestion and removal was 5.8 days.

Of the 195 children, 29 (15%) underwent tracheostomy, and 11 of the 29 children (38%) ultimately had decannulation. There were 14 deaths from swallowing the batteries. All 14 patients had a TEF. The cause of death was identified for 12 of the patients: Four died of pneumonia or respiratory failure; three of massive hematemesis; three of sepsis; one of multiorgan failure, and one of anoxic encephalopathy.

Vocal cord injury occurred after a shorter button battery exposure than other airway injuries.

The authors concluded that prioritizing quick button battery removal is essential "to decrease the devastating consequences of these injuries."

In an invited commentary, Hannah Gibbs, and Kris R. Jatana, MD, of The Ohio State University in Columbus, described what’s being done to prevent and treat these injuries and what’s next.

They noted that ingestion is often unseen so diagnosis is difficult. Therefore, they wrote, a novel coin-battery metal detector could be a radiation-free, quick screening tool. They noted a patent-pending technology has been developed at Ohio State and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Honey Can Help Slow Injury

Some measures can be taken at home or in the hospital if battery swallowing is discovered, the editorialists noted.

In the home or in transport to the hospital, caregivers can give 10 mL of honey every 10 minutes until arrival if the child is older than 12 months.

At the hospital, 10 mL of either honey or sucralfate may be given every 10 minutes to slow the rate of injury until the battery can be surgically removed.

"The current NCPC guidelines suggest up to six doses may be given in the prehospital setting, with three additional doses administered in the hospital," they wrote.

"These strategies should be considered earlier than 12 hours from ingestion, when there is no clinical concern for mediastinitis or sepsis. A child with an esophageal button battery should proceed to the operating room immediately regardless of whether he or she has recently eaten," Gibbs and Jatana wrote.

App Adds Convenience to Boost Physician Reporting

Foreign body ingestions are also severely underreported, they noted. They cited a survey of more than 400 physicians who directly manage foreign body ingestions that found only 11% of button battery injuries and 4% of all foreign body ingestion or aspiration events were reported. The great majority (92%) of respondents said they would report the events if that were more convenient.

To that end, the Global Injury Research Collaborative (GIRC) has created and released a free smartphone application, the GIRC App. It is available free on the iOS system (through App Store) and soon will be available on the Android system (through Google Play), they wrote.

Gibbs and Jatana urge other measures, including safer battery compartments and battery design, to reduce the likelihood of ingestion.

They pointed out that a bill was introduced in Congress that would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to mandate a new standard for child-resistant compartments on products containing button batteries. The act, called Reese’s Law, has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce and is under review.

Jatana reported having a patent pending for a coin or battery metal detector device under development; being a shareholder in Zotarix, Landsdowne Labs, and Tivic Health Systems; serving in a leadership position on the National Button Battery Task Force; and being a board member of the Global Injury Research Collaborative, which is a U.S. Internal Revenue Service-designated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit research organization. No other relevant disclosures were reported.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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