Health professionals are repeating their warning over the dangers of small 'button batteries' being swallowed by young children.
They are urging anyone who has children in or visiting their homes to treat the batteries like poison, keeping them safely away out of reach. If swallowed the small batteries, found in a wide variety of household devices such as clocks, hearing aids and bathroom scales, can cause catastrophic damage in as little as an hour. In some tragic cases they have even proved fatal.
The warning comes as a growing number of children are admitted to UK hospitals for emergency treatment after swallowing the batteries.
Once inside the body the battery can become lodged in the soft lining of the oesophagus – the tube which connects the throat to the stomach. Once there it creates an electrical circuit and releases an alkali similar to caustic soda. Depending on which way the battery is facing it can then burn through soft tissue to the windpipe or into the aorta, a major blood vessel, causing serious internal bleeding.
Because the damage can occur in such a short time it is critical that medical attention is sought immediately, but in the case of toddlers swallowing the small disc-shaped batteries their parents or carers might not even know it has happened.
Some children have been left with permanent damage to their throats after swallowing a battery, requiring many months of treatment and, in some cases, complex surgery in a bid to repair the damage.
London's Great Ormond Street Hospital says that only a decade ago such cases were rare, but they are now seeing about one child a month, with other UK hospitals also reporting a dramatic rise in cases. Some electronic toys for children use the button batteries but they should be inside a battery compartment which is secured with a screw. But many other household devices which children can access have batteries inside them which can be easily removed. In other cases children have found spare batteries in drawers or left out on shelves or tables.
Kate Cross, a consultant neonatal and paediatric surgeon at Great Ormond Street, said: "Button batteries should be treated like poison and kept out of reach of children."
She is one of several top paediatric doctors from the UK's leading children's hospitals who have joined forces in a bid to get the message across and raise awareness of the dangers of button batteries.
If you have young children who live in or visit your home – maybe grandchildren or the children of friends – the advice is to carry out a thorough survey of each room to find devices which use button batteries that could be easily removed, or any that are stored loose in accessible drawers or cupboards.
Once you find them, make sure they are stored safely away and kept out of the reach of children. Remember that it is a natural reaction for young children to put things in their mouths and the small batteries can be very easily swallowed.
You will be surprised how many objects use the small button cell batteries, from calculators, remote controls, kitchen and bathroom scales, clocks and watches, pocket torches, cameras, electronic key fobs, digital thermometers and even singing greetings cards.