Why coin and button batteries can be so dangerous in the hands of your kids

Doctors are warning parents about how dangerous certain batteries can be for your kids. It comes as new standards and regulations go into effect in the U.S.

“It is round, it is shiny, it is nice and slick in their hands and can easily slip into the mouth,” Dr. Sarah Combs described the typical button or coin cell battery.

If swallowed by young kids, they can be extremely dangerous if they get lodged in the esophagus.

“What happens is they actually cause alkali burns. So there’s a chemical reaction and it’s a chemical burn,” said Dr. Combs, who works in the emergency department at Children’s National Hospital in D.C. “And if you can picture that it really is pretty painful and can cause severe illness in a very short period of time.”

Dr. Combs said it only takes about two hours for the reaction to begin and cause the chemical burn inside the child’s digestive and vascular system. It often causes long recovery periods, sometimes not allowing children to eat by mouth for months.

It can even kill children. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has attributed 27 deaths and an estimated 54,300 injuries from 2011 to 2021 to the batteries.

Reese Hamsmith was 18 months old when she was killed by coin and button batteries. Her death in December 2020 spurred the passing of Reese’s Law in 2022 which strengthened safety standards for battery packaging and the products that use the batteries.

On Monday the CPSC approved the new standards, which include requiring a tool such as a screwdriver or coin to open the battery compartment or compartments that are generally harder for young kids to open.

They will also need to be sold by manufactures in child-resistant packaging.

“While we want to make as many changes in industry as we can, we also need to emphasize parents still need to be vigilant,” Dr. Combs said.

She said toddlers often get ahold of these types of batteries when parents are changing them out and leave the “dead” battery in a place where young children can find them.

“It’s still emitting a significant amount of voltage and can still cause those damages to the child’s intestines and internal system,” said Dr. Combs.

She said parents should throw out the old batteries immediately after changing them out.

If you think your child has swallowed a battery, go to an emergency room immediately. Also, if the child is older than 12 months, give them honey which can be protective for the child’s esophagus.

Don’t make your child vomit in an attempt to bring the battery back up.

“There’s actually worse chemical injury with vomit that comes up the esophagus if there is the presence of an alkali item in there,” said Dr. Combs.

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Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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