12 Apr 2016

The big concern behind the tiny object

As technology advances, the need for smaller, more powerful batteries increases. As a result, button and coin cell batteries, easily identified by their size and shape (similar to a button or coin), have never been more popular. These, flat, round batteries are used in a variety of consumer products, from children's toys to remote controls and hearing aids to digital cameras.

Today, if you turned on your television, remotely opened your car with a key fob, started your computer, turned on your hearing aid, or used any other small electronic device; you likely relied on a button cell battery. Each year, people in the United States use more than 100 million of these small, round batteries.

The concerns with these batteries are related to their size and electrical power. Button and coin cell batteries range in size from 3/16" – 1 ¼". A common and powerful battery is the CR2032 3V Lithium Ion cell, this battery happens to be slightly larger than a young child's airway.

Infants and toddlers, who put objects in their mouths as a way to explore their environment, are the most vulnerable to the dangers of button cell batteries. Left unsupervised, children who find access to these batteries often insert them into their nose, ear, or worse, their mouth, which means  they might swallow the object, getting it lodged in their throat.

In addition to posing a choking hazard, the batteries can burn and, in severe cases, eat-away or dissolve completely through tissues found in the ear, nose, and throat.  As the batteries come in contact with human tissue, electricity discharges and the surrounding tissue is broken down. This break down of tissue creates a very caustic, or basic, solution which can damage tissue.

The hazards caused by button and coin cell battery ingestion have triggered responses from medical experts, such as Toby Litovitz, MD,  Ian Jacobs, MD, and  Kris Jatana, MD who, along with leaders from industry and public health, formed the Button Battery Task Force.  Following an invitation, Intertek joined the group to provide research and consultation that helps members better understand the causes and effects of battery-related injuries. This allows the group to work towards injury mitigation and prevention and to develop procedures that can be used by our medical colleagues to inhibit further injury once an ingestion incident has been discovered.

To prevent injuries associated to button and coin cell battery ingestion or insertion, it is best to monitor the activities of at-risk children and seniors. Storing batteries of all kinds in a secure location is a great way to start. As batteries are replaced, ensure that they are properly disposed of immediately. Should someone you know ingest or insert a button or coin cell battery, seek medical attention immediately.

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