Energizer warns parents of button batteries' dangers

This frame grab provided Sept. 13, 2011, by Energizer/Safe Kids USA shows a youngster holding a bag of small batteries commonly found in remote control devices, calculators, even musical greeting cards. St. Louis-based Energizer and Safe Kids USA say that in 2010 alone, 3,400 cases were reported in the U.S. of children swallowing coin cell lithium batteries. Seventeen deaths have been blamed on swallowed button batteries. (AP Photo/Energizer/Safe Kids USA) AP

energizer, button batteries, battery swallow, safe kids usa
This frame grab provided Sept. 13, 2011, by Energizer/Safe Kids USA shows a youngster holding a bag of small button batteries.
AP

(CBS/AP) Beware of Button batteries.

Energizer wants families to know the little disc-like batteries can be dangerous if swallowed by kids. The St. Louis-based battery maker warns that the coin-sized batteries are going down curious kids' throats in increasing numbers, potentially risking their lives.

Eleven children have died from swallowing button batteries over the past six years. The National Capital Poison Center said 3,500 swallowing cases are reported each year.

The batteries, found in products ranging from remote controls to singing greeting cards, don't typically cause choking, but they can cause severe esophageal damage. In some cases the damage can cause kids to bleed to death, said Dr. Toby Litovitz, director of the National Capital Poison Center.

Karla Rauch knows firsthand how dangerous the batteries can be. Last October, she was preparing a first birthday party for her son, Emmett, when he came down with a fever, which was originally diagnosed as a cold or flu. Days later, Emmett was throwing up blood. An X-ray found a button battery in his esophagus. Rauch said the battery came out of a remote control she had left on the floor.

Cut to today, Emmett has undergone 14 surgeries to repair holes in his esophagus and other damage caused by the battery. He's re-learning how to swallow, and suffers from chronic lung problems.

"We can't control what happened to Emmett, but we can help prevent it for other families," Rauch said.

Dr. Litovitz said severe and fatal swallowing injuries have increased sevenfold since 1985. Part of the reason is the increased use of lithium, which gives batteries more power - but also makes them more dangerous.

Manufacturers of products geared towards kids must meet certain standards to ensure batteries cannot be easily removed - such as requiring a screw to secure the compartment door. Those requirements don't exist for products meant for adults.

Button batteries are also found in bathroom scales, which crawling children can access easily. Also, parents sometimes let kids play with their keys, which often contain a battery-powered fob.

"Most of these devices are just so readily available and because the battery door isn't secure, it just makes it very accessible to the child," said Stacey Harbour, director of marketing for Energizer.

What should parents and care-givers do? According to a statement issued jointly Energizer and advocacy group, Safe Kids USA:

  • Examine devices to make sure the battery compartment is secure.
  • Keep button batteries and devices out of kids' sight and reach.
  • Go to the emergency room immediately if swallowing is suspected.
  • Call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333 with any questions.

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