The small round batteries, which are often found in toys and remote controls, can cause chemical burns if they come into contact with the mouth or nose.
The new warning, issued by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) comes after an investigation into the death of a child earlier this year. Though the inquiry is ongoing, investigators said the evidence about the dangers was compelling enough for them to send out the safety message.
The advice not only informs parents of the risks but advises families to store and dispose of the batteries safely.
“These batteries pose a very real risk to small children and babies, and the consequences of swallowing a button battery can be truly devastating,” said Dr Kevin Stewart, Medical Director for the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB).
“This is why we are calling on families this festive period to be extra vigilant and to put in place some basic precautions around their house.
“It’s important that everybody knows that these batteries can be found everywhere, from toys to gadgets such as remote controls, digital scales and car fobs,” he continued.
“The best way to protect children is to place everything securely out of reach and double check that all toys have screws to secure any batteries.”
Experts warned the batteries can become dangerous as soon as they touch wet flesh such as in the oesophagus (food pipe), nose or the ear.
If a battery is swallowed or inserted into the body it can begin a chemical reaction cause internal burns within hours and lead to problems with swallowing and breathing.
The damage can be so significant it can lead to death, the warning claims.
And fatal injuries can occur even if the batteries are too dead to power something warns Dr Rachel Rowlands, of Leicester Royal Infirmary, so parents should be advised to dispose of them properly.
So what should parents do if their child does swallow or insert a batter?
“Parents or carers should bring their child to the nearest emergency department immediately if they think a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery,” Dr Rowlands says.
And with many Christmas items being powered by the batteries the warnings are even more important around the festive season.
Katrina Phillips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, said: “Festive tea lights, singing Santas and flashing Christmas wands are all powered by lithium coin cell batteries, many of them easily accessible to curious little fingers.
“We’re concerned that small children put everything in their mouths, with potentially lethal consequences.
“We’re encouraging families to keep potentially dangerous products out of reach of babies, toddlers and small children, and to be equally careful about where they store spare and used batteries.”
HSIB’s tips for protecting children this Christmas
- Batteries are everywhere: check household gadgets such as remote controls (TV, audio) and digital scales are safely out of reach of children and consider other items that might also have batteries (greeting cards, flameless candles, key fobs) which may not have the back secured with a screw
- Where a toy has batteries check that they are secured with a screw
- Think about where you store spare batteries and keep them in a high, lockable cupboard
- Teach children that button batteries are dangerous
- Remember that even used batteries can be dangerous, never leave them on the side, put them out of children’s reach straight away and recycle them safely
- Check for discarded or old remote controls or fobs around the house which may contain old batteries
- New toys often come with batteries included in the packaging – don’t lose them in the chaos of present unwrapping.
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