It's every parent's worst nightmare. Michael, a 3-year-old boy who lives in Utah, ran into the room where his mother was folding laundry and pointed to his mouth. He was gagging and spitting. Michael's mother, Marcy, asked him if he had swallowed something. "Money," he replied.
Marcy gave Michael a drink of water, but she knew something was wrong. She asked him again if he had swallowed something, and this time Michael replied, "remote." Her older son ran and grabbed the television remote, and they found that the back was open and the quarter-sized button battery was missing.
Panicked, Marcy phoned her husband, Spencer, who immediately called the Utah Poison Control Center. The center advised Marcy and Spencer to take Michael to the hospital right away, and it called ahead to make sure the emergency department was ready when Michael arrived.
Doctors took an X-ray and discovered that the button battery was lodged deep in Michael's esophagus, and he wouldn't be able to pass it on his own. They decided to transport Michael via Life Flight to a specialist in Salt Lake City to remove the button battery.
The procedure took a couple of hours, and doctors had to flush away damaged tissue in Michael's esophagus blackened by the button battery. It was finally out five hours after Michael swallowed the battery. He remained in the hospital for three days, and Michael had to eat through a tube for two weeks. He wasn't able to eat a normal diet for three months.
Michael's story is not an uncommon one. The Utah Poison Control Center says it receives about 50 calls per year that a child has ingested a button battery. The tiny batteries are highly dangerous and can cause serious health complications and even death.
Nationally, about 3,500 button battery ingestions are reported to the National Poison Data System each year. Most people suffer minor or no effects. In 2013, the last reported year, 13 of them died.
"Button batteries are commonly used in devices such as remote controls, greeting cards, toys, cameras, calculators, toothbrushes, lighted shoes and watches, just to name a few," says Sherrie Pace, a health educator at the Utah Poison Control Center.
Pace says Marcy and Spencer did the right thing.
"We recommend calling poison control immediately. Don't waste precious time searching the Internet for answers," she says.
In fact, a button battery can cause severe damage in as little as two hours after ingestion.
The Utah Poison Control Center is available 24 hours per day at 800-222-1222.
Here are some tips on preventing this potentially serious accident from occurring in your home:
- A study published in Pediatrics found that 62 percent of kids younger than 6 who ingest button batteries obtained them directly from a device. Keep all devices that use button batteries, including television remotes, out of reach of children, and make sure the battery compartments are tightly shut.
- Never leave loose button batteries sitting out. Store spare button batteries safely and out of reach of children.
- Keep in mind that even used batteries no longer strong enough to power a device can still cause harm.