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Why can button cell batteries kill children?

This Friday, December 27, the Ministry of Health expressed concern about the fatal risk posed by button batteries, which are among the millions of Christmas toys offered in homes. In 20 years, they have caused six deaths and fifty-one serious accidents.

“The ingestion of a button cell is a real emergency, “the ministry said in a statement, calling on parents to “vigilance”. Because “the number of cases of ingestion (…) by young children has increased considerably” for fifteen years, with the generalization of these small batteries.

The consequences are “sometimes dramatic: six deaths (including five young children) were observed, while 51 people presented serious complications over the period 1999-2018 “, adds the ministry, according to which 4,500 calls were made for this reason to poison centers over this period.

Perforated esophagus, hemorrhage, burn …

Once swallowed, button cell batteries can get stuck in the esophagus, the duct that connects the mouth to the stomach. Contrary to what we imagine, the immediate danger does not come from the products they contain but of their electric action in the humid environment of the esophagus.

By acting by electrolysis, they can cause “very serious complications, sometimes fatal, appearing in a sometimes very short time (less than two hours)”: they can burn or even perforate the esophagus, causing a “sudden and unpredictable hemorrhage“or” airway perforation “.

Contact the Poison Control Center or the SAMU

If a child swallows a button cell (or if it is suspected that he may have done so), it is “imperative, without waiting for symptoms to appear, to contact a poison control center immediately or SAMU“, advocates the ministry. “explicitly indicate to the caller that it may be the ingestion of a button cell” and “do not give your child anything to drink or eat”. Nor should you induce vomiting.

Another precaution: “Being able to show the packaging or the device containing the batteries to help the doctor identify the type and size of the battery”, which “will facilitate treatment”. “The care implemented in the event of ingestion can be heavy and after-effects can remain”, continues the ministry. Even when discharged, a button cell “remains dangerous if swallowed. It can cause the same type of injury as when charged”.

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