More Children are Swallowing Batteries

By Kim Smiley

A new study has found that the number of children going to the emergency room because of batteries that have been swallowed or placed in the mouth, ears or nose has nearly doubled during the past 20 years.  The study determined that a child visits an emergency room in the United States every three hours for issues involving a battery.  Most of the cases involve children under 5 and batteries that were swallowed.

These findings are relevant because a swallowed battery can result in severe injury and even death in extreme cases.  This issue can be examined by building a Cause Map, a visual format for performing a root cause analysis.  In this example, there is the potential for serious injury or death because children are swallowing batteries and batteries can cause serious injuries. More children are swallowing batteries in part because of the increasing popularity of button batteries, which account for 84% of all battery-related ingestions.  Button batteries are shiny, circle batteries that are used in a number of modern gadgets and there are far more of them in the typical house today than 20 years ago.  They are used to power toys, games, hearing aids, remotes and any number of small things common in the modern household.

Button batteries are more likely to be swallowed than traditional batteries because they are much smaller.  It’s also easy to see how the shiny appearance of button batteries would be tempting to small children.  Some devices use screws or other restraints on their battery compartments so that children can’t remove the batteries, but many devices do not, especially those intended for adult use.

Button batteries can cause serious injuries because they can get stuck in the esophagus, a moist environment where the battery can form a microcell that erodes the tissue.  In the worst cases, the battery can eat though the throat and into the aorta, causing a child to bled to death.  Damage can also occur very quickly, in less than two hours and the child may not show any symptoms at first.

The best way to protect children is to tape the battery compartment or securely store all devices that use button batteries if the battery compartment does not have a screw.  It is also essential to take children to the emergency room immediately if there is any suspicion that they might have swallowed a battery.  A simple x-ray can determine if a battery was swallowed and quick removal of the battery can prevent significant damage if the battery is caught in their esophagus.

Click “Download PDF” above to view a high level Cause Map of this issue.