Lithium batteries are responsible for thousands of accidents each year, but many parents don’t know the risks.
Tiny, coin-sized lithium batteries — also called “button batteries” — are used in everything from musical greeting cards to small toys and remote controls, but many parents don’t realize they actually pose a serious health risk to small kids. A two-year-old girl died recently after ingesting one of these batteries, and what happened to her is bringing much-needed attention to a little known household safety issue.
Brianna Florer passed away the Sunday after Christmas. She’d been playing with her new toys and acting completely normal, but just 24 hours later she was vomiting blood and her skin was blue. She was taken to the hospital and rushed into surgery, but doctors were unable to stop what ultimately turned out to be internal bleeding caused by ingesting a small lithium battery.
The autopsy results aren’t official, but her grandfather tells Tulsa World that doctors believe acid from the battery “ate through to her carotid artery by way of her esophagus.” When the battery’s negative pole comes into contact with fluid, it creates a chemical reaction that erodes soft tissue. Even scarier, Brianna is not the first child to be gravely injured by ingesting one of these button batteries.
In fact, the problem has gotten so big that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) formed their own Button Battery Task Force. According to the AAP, more than 3,500 incidents of button battery ingestion are reported to Poison Control each year, and between 2006 and 2010, the number of serious injuries or deaths from these ingestions quadrupled. The vast majority of accidental battery swallowings occur in children under four, and it can be extremely difficult for doctors to diagnose the problem.
The Independent reports a prominent UK surgeon, Martin Elliott, is so concerned by the number of kids he’s treated, he’s trying to get companies to redesign the batteries so they’re more difficult to swallow. He’s also trying to encourage manufacturers to create battery compartments that are 100 percent childproof. Until either of those things happen, it’s up to parents to be vigilant and make sure batteries are as difficult to access as possible — something that’s not always easy when the batteries are so small and it’s so hard to know if your child has gotten ahold of one.
The most difficult thing about this risk is that it’s something many people wouldn’t even think about. We worry about our kids ingesting household cleaners or sticking something in a light socket, but on Christmas day or on their birthdays, the last thing you’re thinking about is your child somehow accessing and eating a tiny battery. It’s a very real and scary risk that is way too easy to overlook.
Hopefully Dr. Elliott and others are successful in their bids to raise awareness about this issue and can encourage manufacturers to do something to eliminate the risk. What happened to Brianna Florer is absolutely tragic and shouldn’t happen to any child, ever.