Button batteries pose a common hazard for children, but science has discovered an old-school solution

For most new parents, the joy of watching their baby crawl for the first time quickly gives way to frantic baby-proofing to protect the newly mobile baby. In the rush to block off the stairs, lock up the cleaning supplies and cover the electrical sockets, one hazard is easily overlooked: Button batteries like those found in many remotes can be extremely harmful in the hands of curious babies and toddlers.

Sadly this results in some 2,500 children getting hospitalized in the United States each year for ingesting button batteries or lodging them in their noses or ears. While a swallowed coin or peice of Lego poses a choking hazard, these batteries have the added danger of a chemical reaction that can cause potentially fatal damage.

That's why researchers are excited about a new study that may help parents during an emergency.

According to the CDC, there were 13 fatalities among young children as a result of ingesting button batteries between 2002 and 2010, with several of the deaths occurring after patients were misdiagnosed and released. As the batteries are found in increasingly more household products, more children are getting their hands on them. According to a new study from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), there was a 12-fold increase in fatal outcomes due to button batteries in the past decade compared to the decade before.

"Since serious damage can occur within two hours of ingesting a battery, the interval between ingestion and removal is a critical time to act in order to reduce esophageal injury," says co-investigator Ian N. Jacobs, MD, Director of the Center for Pediatric Airway Disorders. Not only is this because the batteries can be choking hazards, but the researchers add the batteries react with saliva and "creates a hydroxide-rich, alkaline solution that essentially dissolves tissue."

That's why time is of the essence if parents even suspect a child has ingested or lodged a button battery—so very first order of business should be calling 911 or going to the emergency room. During the interim time before treatment, however, the authors behind the new study found that offering the child honey can help mitigate the effects.

"We explored a variety of common household and medicinal liquid options, and our study showed that honey and sucralfate demonstrated the most protective effects against button battery injury, making the injuries more localized and superficial," says co-author Kris R. Jatana, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist and Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology Quality Improvement at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in a press release. "The findings of our study are going to be put immediately into clinical practice, incorporated into the latest National Capital Poison Center Guidelines for management of button battery ingestions."

Jacobs adds in the press release that offering honey at regular intervals before the child reaches the hospital is "better than doing nothing." (He notes honey should never be given to infants younger than one or to children who may have already perforated their esophagus.)

Although this presents a promising option for parents already in the midst of an emergency, the best approach of all is to identify all items with button batteries while baby-proofing the house. As Jatana recommends, "Parents and caregivers should check all electronic products in the home and make certain that the battery is enclosed in a compartment that requires a tool to open and periodically check to ensure it stays secure over time."

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