Health Corner

As the festive period approaches, I would like to highlight two items that are hazardous for small children, especially when there are new gifts lying around. Having personally seen the effects of these in A&E, it’s vital that both caregivers and clinicians act in a timely manner to reduce damage.

Button batteries

These little batteries are in many toys, gadgets and remote controls in the household. Infants and toddlers find them very tempting to eat and they pose several risks. Firstly, there is the risk of choking – they can lodge in the windpipe and stop them breathing.

Secondly, lithium coin batteries in particular can cause devastating effects on the body. The energy from batteries (even old ones) reacts with saliva to create caustic soda – what we would normally use to unblock drains! 

This can burn through the food pipe, as well as the surrounding arteries, leading to catastrophic internal bleeding and death. This can take a matter of hours or several days.

Magnets

These small magnets can be found in toys, jewellery, building kits and fridge magnets, and again young children can find them tempting to ingest. There have also been incidences of teens swallowing magnetic fake tongue piercings. In particular, online purchases or overseas products can have magnets 10 times the strength that is recommended in the UK.

As well as a choking hazard, if ingested they can join together and make holes in intestines and cut off blood supply, and may require complex surgery (as well as making your child very unwell).

Take action

If you suspect your child has swallowed a button battery or magnet – act fast, do not wait for symptoms to develop:

Go straight to your nearest A&E, or call 999.

If you have it, take the device that contained the battery/magnet or packaging.

Do not make the child sick.

Do not give the child anything to eat or drink.

Prevention

Keep spare and used batteries out of reach.

Check the cover on the battery cases.

Try to buy toys and gifts from a reputable retailer or brand you know to ensure they meet UK safety standards.

Look for warnings on packaging and do not give products with strong magnets to children.

Speak to older children about keeping certain items away from younger siblings.

Useful link:

The Child Accident Prevention Trust: http://www.capt.org.uk

Dr. Yuheng Zhou

Teddington Resident & Paediatric Consultant

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