Brayden Imlay, who is 9 months old, was rushed to hospital after a button cell battery got stuck in his throat on March 9. His mother hopes to warn others of the dangers of button batteries. (Imlay family photo)
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SALT LAKE CITY – Cassidie Imlay has learned the hard way how dangerous small button batteries can be for toddlers and infants, after her 9-month-old son found a shiny little battery on the floor and l put in his mouth.
St. George’s mother said her son Brayden was at a crawling and trotting stage in the military, just beginning to move around on his own. She cleaned up everything she could see on the floor before putting it down, and had her back to him for only a few seconds when she heard choking and screaming.
Even though he vomited, what he swallowed did not come out.
Imlay was the only adult at home at the time, as she was out of town to care for other children in addition to her own. She rushed to find a babysitter to watch the other children so she could take Brayden to the ER.
After an ambulance ride and an X-ray, doctors were able to find the button cell and remove it within hours, but not before it left burns along her esophagus.
Imlay said most things children can swallow can pass through their system without any problems, but batteries cause a lot more problems. They can create an electrical charge, which causes burns, and acid can leak out when the batteries corrode.
“Put your batteries away, be careful of the batteries. You just don’t know how dangerous they are,” Imlay said.
Dr Katie Russell, a pediatric surgeon at Primary Children’s Hospital, said small button batteries are particularly harmful to children aged six months to 3 or 4 years. She said that if adults swallow a button battery, it has a good chance of moving through them, but due to the size of children, it will most likely get stuck, which can lead to life-threatening issues.
She explained that button batteries get stuck about two inches in a child’s upper esophagus and then create a complete circuit, causing a burn, as the battery contacts tissue and reacts to saliva.
Although battery burns like Brayden’s received in the esophagus are dangerous, the results can be worse when children are not treated promptly. Russell said she had several patients who had been in an intensive care unit after swallowing a battery.
Scar tissue from burns can lead to narrowing of the esophagus, a buildup of scar tissue that makes it harder to eat properly, requiring repeated procedures to stretch the esophagus. If the burn passes through the esophagus, it can lead to a tracheoesophageal fistula where the esophagus is connected to the airways in the throat or the burn can reach the arteries, which can cause life-threatening bleeding.
Russell said that in addition to button batteries, magnets can also cause significant problems in children, especially small ball-shaped magnets like Buckyballs that are used to make drawings and sculptures. If several small magnets are swallowed, they can collect together inside a child’s body and can tear the intestines or get stuck.
“When I think of the things I take care of that are preventable issues, No. 1 is button cell batteries and No. 2 is magnets,” Russell said. “And I advise all families with young children that they either lock up or throw away magnets and button batteries.”
Brayden swallowed the battery on March 9 and Imlay said her baby seemed to be doing better now, after about two weeks of being sick and wanting to be restrained. They are still monitoring him closely and attending doctor’s appointments to make sure the scar tissue in his esophagus is not limiting his ability to eat by causing food to get stuck.
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know how dangerous they were. I thought it would probably be fine after he was taken out and yet we are still dealing with the possible effects of all of this,” Imlay said.
She said she’s usually very diligent and aware of choking hazards, but that day she was in an environment that wasn’t her own and didn’t have as much control. After learning how dangerous these small button batteries can be, Imlay wanted to educate more people to prevent this from happening to other families.
These small batteries, which are typically about 20mm in diameter, are found in watches, key fobs, garage door openers, cameras, and even greeting cards that emit noise or other functionality that requires electricity.
Russell suggested keeping these items away from children and knowing where magnets or objects containing these batteries are kept so that if a child has swallowed something, adults can identify if it was a battery. button or magnet.
She said if a parent thinks their child has swallowed a button cell battery, they should go straight to the emergency room because the risk of complications is low if the battery is removed within hours.
Russell said Primary Children’s sees a child with a swallowed button cell battery at least once a month, although it’s rarer to have a child who needs to go to intensive care for life-threatening results. A national study that Russell found indicated that about 6,000 children each year seek treatment after swallowing a button cell battery in the United States.
“I think we as medical providers wish they would stop making these batteries, you know, and create some kind of other alternative power mechanism,” Russell said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s likely to happen. But it’s a very serious issue.”
Button cell battery packaging must have warnings to keep the batteries away from toddlers, but Russell said she pulled the batteries from a child’s throat with stickers still on the battery depicting a cross on a whole -small, showing that stickers and warnings are not enough.