Lithium Batteries Pose Deadly Threat to Kids

Swallowing small lithium batteries can cause serious complications or death.

ByABC News
December 4, 2010, 9:26 PM

Dec. 5, 2010— -- Hazel Donovan was a happy, healthy 9-month-old when she developed cold symptoms and wheezing that just wouldn't go away. Her mother quickly turned to her pediatricians.

"They said it's probably croup, it's very common. She was always wheezing," her mother Amanda Donovan said.

"We took her to the Emergency Department," she said. "They gave her nebulizers. They admitted her overnight, but she just wasn't improving. They discharged her the next morning and basically told us that it would just take time to go away."

But Amanda Donovan returned to her local ER that night when her daughter stopped breathing while she was feeding her dinner.

Doctors did an X-ray and saw what they thought was a nickel in the baby's esophagus. Hazel was in grave condition.

She was rushed to Children's Hospital in Boston and when doctors looked more closely at the X-ray they say it wasn't a nickel at all. It was a small lithium battery.

"They could see the serial number on it," Amanda Donovan said. "It was on the x-ray."

They're common in everyday objects all around us, in gadgets like remote controls, watches, calculators, thermometers, toys and greeting cards. Nickel sized lithium batteries, or button batteries are often accidentally ingested by young children and they can be deadly.

Reports of children ingesting these "button batteries" have increased. More than 35,000 button battery cases are reported to poison control centers annually and 13 have been identified as the cause of death.

Within as little as two hours, after the round 20-25mm battery enters the body, it can cause severe tissue damage and other serious complications.

When a lithium battery becomes lodged in the body, it gives off an electrical current. Once the electric charge is set off, it reacts with the surrounding skin, producing a strong acid similar to that found in home drain opener.