Study shows children’s ER visits are on the rise

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More than 70,000 children over the past decade have visited the emergency room for swallowing batteries, according to a new study, a sharp increase from the previous decade.

Using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System between 2010 and 2019, researchers determined about 70,322 battery-related emergency room visits among under-18s, according to the study published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics.

Based on approximately 7,032 incidents per year, the study authors determined that, on average, a battery-related trip to the ER occurs every 1.25 hours. That’s more than double the rate between 1990 and 2009, when a battery-related ER visit occurred every 2.66 hours.

“What we found was quite concerning,” said study co-author Dr. Kris Jatana, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and professor at Ohio State University. “The rate of emergency room visits was more than double what it had been in the previous two decades.”

More than 84% of patients were under 5 years old and button batteries accounted for almost 85% of emergency room visits.

Lithium button batteries are one of the most dangerous things for a child to swallow, a “true medical emergency”, said Dr. Rade Vukmir, spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians and professor of clinical medicine. at Drexel University.

If the batteries get stuck in a child’s throat, the saliva triggers an electrical current causing a chemical burn that can seriously damage the esophagus. This can occur in as little as two hours after ingestion and lead to perforation, paralysis of the vocal cords, or erosion of the airways.

“The clock is ticking as it gets stuck in the esophagus,” Jatana said. “These injuries can become quite serious, difficult to repair surgically and upsetting to the extent that children (may need) a feeding or breathing tube.”

Three-volt lithium button cells are among the most dangerous because they have a higher voltage that can cause more damage in less time. They can also get stuck in the throat more easily due to their larger diameter.

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Children who may have swallowed a battery should be taken to the emergency room immediately, health experts say.

If there is a jar of honey in the house, experts recommend that parents give their child two teaspoons of honey every 10 minutes on the way to the hospital to coat the throat and reduce the risk of injury. serious. Honey should only be given to children over one year old. Besides honey, no other food or drink should be given after a stack has been ingested.

Vukmir also recommends bringing the type of battery that might have been swallowed — if parents have it — to help ER doctors assess the situation. But parents shouldn’t stop at the store to buy honey or spend more than a few minutes finding the battery, he added.

If a child swallows a battery, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia also warns against trying to induce vomiting, giving medicine, drinking milk or water, or trying the Heimlich maneuver.

Regarding swallowed batteries, health experts say prevention is key.

“More of this ‘button’ battery danger is in the home setting than in the past,” Jatana said. “As a pediatric head and neck surgeon, I have seen too many children injured by ‘button’ batteries.”

Products marketed for children have safety packs that make it harder to access batteries, but many common household products do not. safeguards to protect wandering toddlers.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed a bill called Reese’s Law — named after a child who died after swallowing a button battery in 2020 — that directs the Consumer Product Safety Commission to establish new safety standards for products with button or button batteries, such as safer packaging and more visible warning labels. The agency has one year to set the regulatory standards.

In the meantime, health experts are urging parents to secure their electronic devices and prevent children from accessing batteries. Vukmir also suggests properly disposing of dead batteries outside the home.

“Even when they’re dead, they still have enough charge to cause real damage,” he said. “Don’t leave them anywhere, make sure they are out of reach and make children understand that they are dangerous objects.”

But the best way to prevent serious injuries from swallowing batteries, Jatana added, is for companies to develop safer battery technology. A startup called Landsdown Labs designs a battery that becomes inactive when accidentally ingested.

“Functional in the product, but in the esophagus, acts like a coin that can be removed without consequences,” he said. “That’s what we need the industry to embrace.”

Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Coverage of patient health and safety at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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