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Doctors warn of danger to children from button batteries

Doctors warn of danger to children from button batteries

Parents of young children and general practitioners should be alert to the dangers of swallowing or inserting button batteries, according to research published in the March edition of the Journal of Primary Health Care.

Button, or coin, batteries are used in watches, pedometers, remote controls or other small devices. As these become larger, more powerful and more prevalent, injuries to children have become more frequent. If a battery is swallowed or inserted, it can rapidly lead to significant tissue damage, in some cases in less than three hours.

In the US and Australia, a public awareness campaign has been launched and a similar campaign is planned for New Zealand. This will highlight the need for parents to be vigilant to prevent severe injury.
The authors say general practitioners have a key role in reducing the severity of any injuries. But it can be very difficult for primary care practitioners to diagnose button battery ingestion or insertion as often children are very reluctant to describe what has happened or may still be preverbal.

“Most children will present to primary care, and diagnosis, removal and referral are required rapidly,” the paper says.
“The possibility of button battery ingestion or insertion should trigger a rapid response from all involved in the delivery of health care, including telephone advice lines, reception staff, practice nurses and doctors.”

The authors, Michael Shepherd, James Hamill and Ruth Barker, recommend that if a foreign metallic object is found in the nose or ear, it should be considered a button battery unless it can clearly be identified otherwise.

If there’s the possibility a child has swallowed a button battery, an x-ray is recommended, both to confirm it is a battery and to locate exactly where it is.

The research paper, called ‘Button battery injury in children—a primary care issue’, has been published in the March issue of the Journal of Primary Health Care, which is on the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners’ website at


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