Button battery warning: Toddler left in intensive care after chemical burns from swallowing 'lethal' object

3d render.  Batteries  isolated on white background.
Button battery warning: Swallowing them can prove fatal. [Photo: Getty]

Parents are being warned about the danger posed by button batteries.

Sophie Skill, now six, from Sheffield, was on life support for days and in hospital for weeks after she swallowed a button battery when she was two years old.

This Christmas, her mother, Clare, is warning other parents of the risks of children swallowing button batteries.

The small, round batteries are often used in toys and devices such as wristwatches, which may be given as gifts at Christmas – making this warning especially pertinent over the festive period.

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Clare told the BBC: "She was still breathing all right and crying. But she was really, really screaming. I'd never heard anything like it before."

Sophie’s mother took her to A&E immediately, where they had to operate on the toddler to remove the battery – but not before it had caused severe chemical burns.

"Within two hours it had already done the damage. They did an X-ray and found it had burned through her oesophagus and her lung. She had to go on a ventilator,” Clare recalled.

Around two children die a year from swallowing batteries.

Button battery danger

The small round batteries, which are often found in toys and remote controls, can cause chemical burns if they come into contact with the mouth or nose.

If a battery is swallowed or inserted into the body it can begin a chemical reaction cause internal burns within hours and lead to problems with swallowing and breathing. The damage can be so significant it can lead to death, according to the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB).

Families are advised to store and dispose of the batteries safely to prevent children coming into contact with them.

How to keep button batteries away from children

NHS England Medical Director, Prof Stephen Powis, said in a statement: "For toddlers, button batteries can look like sweets.

"We want to ensure parents are aware of the dangers of these potentially lethal batteries.

"The best way to protect children is simply by keeping batteries out of reach for children, and ensure that any toys that require the batteries are firmly locked into the battery compartment."

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“These batteries pose a very real risk to small children and babies, and the consequences of swallowing a button battery can be truly devastating,” Dr Kevin Stewart, Medical Director for HSIB, told Yahoo UK last Christmas.

“This is why we are calling on families this festive period to be extra vigilant and to put in place some basic precautions around their house.

“It’s important that everybody knows that these batteries can be found everywhere, from toys to gadgets such as remote controls, digital scales and car fobs,” he continued.

“The best way to protect children is to place everything securely out of reach and double check that all toys have screws to secure any batteries.”

Fatal injuries can occur even if the batteries are too dead to power something warns Dr Rachel Rowlands, of Leicester Royal Infirmary, told Yahoo UK, so parents should be advised to dispose of them properly.

What to do if your child swallows a button battery

So what should parents do if their child does swallow or insert a batter?

“Parents or carers should bring their child to the nearest emergency department immediately if they think a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery,” Dr Rowlands says.

And with many Christmas items being powered by the batteries the warnings are even more important around the festive season.

Katrina Phillips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, said: “Festive tea lights, singing Santas and flashing Christmas wands are all powered by lithium coin cell batteries, many of them easily accessible to curious little fingers.

“We’re concerned that small children put everything in their mouths, with potentially lethal consequences.

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“We’re encouraging families to keep potentially dangerous products out of reach of babies, toddlers and small children, and to be equally careful about where they store spare and used batteries.”

HSIB’s tips for protecting children at Christmas

  • Batteries are everywhere: check household gadgets such as remote controls (TV, audio) and digital scales are safely out of reach of children and consider other items that might also have batteries (greeting cards, flameless candles, key fobs) which may not have the back secured with a screw

  • Where a toy has batteries check that they are secured with a screw

  • Think about where you store spare batteries and keep them in a high, lockable cupboard

  • Teach children that button batteries are dangerous

  • Remember that even used batteries can be dangerous, never leave them on the side, put them out of children’s reach straight away and recycle them safely

  • Check for discarded or old remote controls or fobs around the house which may contain old batteries

  • New toys often come with batteries included in the packaging – don’t lose them in the chaos of present unwrapping.

If you think your child has swallowed a button battery, take them to A&E immediately.

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