Button batteries warning to parents

Five-year-old Alexander Grech with the button battery that was removed from his nasal cavity during surgery at the RCH. Photo courtesy of the Herald Sun.

The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH), Kidsafe Victoria and the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit (VISU) have warned parents of the life threatening dangers to small children from commonly used button batteries.

The warning coincides with the holiday shopping period where parents are set to purchase thousands of battery operated toys and household items, and the forthcoming release of the latest VISU research report on button batteries.

“In the 12-year period July 1999 to June 2011, there were 506 battery ingestions or insertion injuries among children aged 0-4 years,” said Lesley Day, Director of the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit.

“Almost two-thirds of cases (323) involved the ingestion or insertion of a button battery – an average of 27 cases per year. Eleven percent of cases required the child to be admitted to hospital.”

Last year five-year-old Alexander Grech underwent emergency surgery at the RCH after he managed to lodge a button battery in his nasal cavity.

“He came in screaming and by the time I went to the tweezers to get it out he had breathed in deeply and it jammed in there,” his father Saviour said.

“The doctors said that eventually the casing would have worn away and the acid in the battery would have eroded his nasal cavity,” Mr Grech said.

RCH Trauma Service director Dr Joe Crameri said button batteries could cause lifelong damage.

“Children typically require surgery to remove the battery, but ongoing issues often arise, with treatment sometimes requiring feeding and breathing tubes,” he said.

Fortunately for Alexander, he suffered no permanent injury.

The latest research from VISU shows that children under the age of two are most at risk, with 38% of hospital admissions occurring in this age group.

Robert Caulfield President of Kidsafe Victoria said, “It is important parents are aware of the dangers of button batteries. These can be found in many common household items including remote controls, household electronic devices, keyless entry car remotes, toys, cameras, bathroom scales, singing greeting cards and wrist watches.”

“The coin sized batteries can cause severe life threatening injuries when swallowed. There is concern about the low level of awareness in the community of the dangers that button batteries posed”.

Mr Caulfield said, “It is important for parents to focus around the safe storage and disposal of the batteries, which can often be kept in the kitchen draw or left on a ledge within easy reach of children.”

Barbara Minuzzo from the RCH Safety Centre said parents and carers should respond quickly if their child swallows a button battery.

“Take the child to the emergency department immediately. Do not allow the child to eat or drink and do not induce vomiting,” she said.

Top Safety Tips:
– Examine devices and make sure the battery compartment is secure.
– Keep coin-sized button batteries and devices out of sight and out of reach.
– Dispose of old button batteries immediately.
– If swallowing of a button battery is suspected, go to your nearest emergency room immediately.
– Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for additional treatment information.
– Tell others about this threat and share these steps.

Button batteries are found in everyday devices such as:
– Remote control devices that unlock car doors and control MP3 speakers
– Calculators
– Hearing aides
– Bathroom scales
– Reading lights
– Flameless candles
– Talking and singing books and greeting cards.

Click here for more information or visit the Product Safety Australia website.

Click here to read Alexander’s story on the Herald Sun website.

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