Button batteries an underrated hazard this holiday season

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When I covered the unveiling of the Public Interest Research Group’s annual “Trouble in Toyland” report last week, the panel of doctors and experts assembled for the program detailed a variety of hazards to kids, including toys with high lead content, toys that make ear-piercing noises and toys that can be choking hazards for tots. In the latter category, one expert — Dr. Scott Schoem, director of otolraryngology (also known as ear, nose and throat) at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center — named a major non-toy hazard to young ones: so-called ‘button batteries.’

Those are the flat, coin-shaped batteries used to power everything from watches to calculators to hearing aids to — yes — children’s toys. But, as Schoem said at the event, these batteries are a real risk to kids. “It’s round, it’s flat, it’s wide enough that it won’t fit through your esophagus and it’s in every home I know of,” he said.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 12 button battery-related deaths of children younger than 4 between 1995 and 2010. Of the 40,400 children young than 13 treated in hospital emergency departments for battery-related injuries, 58 percent of them were treated for injuries involving button batteries.

General injuries from batteries have been on the rise for the past few decades, spiking from 1,900 in 1998 to 4,800 in 2010. To help protect your young one from the dangers lurking inside his favorite batery-operated plaything, here are some tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:
Discard button batteries carefully.
Do not allow children to play with button batteries, and keep button batteries out of your child’s reach.
Caution hearing aid users to keep hearing aids and batteries out of the reach of children.
Never put button batteries in your mouth for any reason as they are easily swallowed accidentally.
Always check medications before ingesting them. Adults have swallowed button batteries mistaken for pills or tablets.
Keep remotes and other electronics out of your child’s reach if the battery compartments do not have a screw to secure them. Use tape to help secure the battery compartment.
If a button battery is ingested, immediately seek medical attention. The National Battery Ingestion Hotline is available anytime at (202) 625-3333 (call collect if necessary), or call your poison center at (800) 222-1222.

Amanda Cuda

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