As I picked up another chart in the emergency department the other night, I read the triage comment “battery in nose”. I smiled to myself and inwardly groaned–little kids are more innovative than a Silicon Valley entrepreneur in finding new objects to put in their noses, ears, and mouth. Unfortunately, button batteries are especially dangerous, as they can cause corrosion of the tissues if not removed–especially if they’re swallowed and stuck in the esophagus.
A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics highlighted that as we have more and more objects with these little button batteries, visits to the ED for battery-related issues have nearly doubled over the past two decades (see picture at right). The study showed that the children are typically five years or younger, and two thirds were boys (hmmm…I’m not making ANY comment there!). Most of the time the children swallow the battery, with the rest found in the nose and inner ear.
Be careful of any object with these “button batteries”– games, toys, remote controls, watches, even hearing aids. Make sure that the battery compartments are taped securely shut, and keep a close eye. If you think that your child may have swallowed one, GO to the nearest emergency department. They’ll take an x-ray of your child to see where the button battery is–if it’s made its way into the stomach, chances are it will pass on its own without any difficulty (and will just need another X-ray surveillance). If not, the child would need very close observation and potentially a procedure to remove the battery before it causes potentially life-threatening internal injuries.
On a related note, watch out for magnets–children seem to love to swallow them too! One magnet usually passes on its own, but two magnets can create a problem if they become bound together, especially if they catch any internal tissue in between them.
So what did I do? Well, after four years of residency, i have become an EXPERT in removing these kinds of things from ears and noses (Huh. I certainly did not aspire to that when i started out….). From thin forceps to little glue sticks (the child has to remain REALLLLLLY still lest they go home with an object still in their nose–namely the glue stick….and that usually doesn’t get the greatest marks for satisfaction) to a nifty move that I get the parents to do “blow” out the object, I have a bag of tricks. I used all of them that night–and after 30 minutes my little patient was happily eating a popsicle and waving “bye” as he walked out with his mom. I hope they tape up the batteries this time….