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Dangers of button batteries exacerbated by failings in care

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The dangers of button batteries, especially to very young children, have been circulating in the media for a few years now, but sadly cases where young lives are put at risk still appear to be on the rise.

A warning has again been sparked by the recent tragic case of two-year-old Harper-Lee Fanthorpe who sadly passed away in May this year after swallowing a button battery from a remote control.  Earlier in the year, the BBC and ITV covered the story of 11-month-old Sofia-Grace Hill.  An X-ray eventually revealed she’d had a button battery lodged in her oesophagus. Her survival was put down to the battery being old and without charge.

Where are these button batteries found?

Button cells or batteries are quite thick, around the size of a 10p piece, and tend to be alkaline or silver oxide, whilst lithium coin cells are generally much thinner.  Both can be equally dangerous if swallowed. Examples of common household items which contain button batteries are toys, calculators, cameras, musical greetings cards, hearing aids and watches etc. The batteries are small and round and shiny, and this is what makes them attractive to children.

What happens if a child swallows a battery?   

The biggest worry is that the battery can become lodged in the oesophagus and when that happens the battery can quickly burn through the tissue there and cause serious, or fatal, damage. Doctors can act straight away by threading an endoscope down the throat to remove the battery. Even if the swallowed battery has passed to the stomach and the child is symptom free, it can still cause damage to the stomach lining. This suggests doctors should consider removing the battery, in these cases too.

Importance of a swift reaction by treating Doctors

Andrea Rusbridge, partner and clinical negligence specialist based in our Northampton office, has recently been instructed by the parents of a two-year-old who, unbeknown to them, had swallowed a button battery. The toddler’s throat had been hurting, so after one telephone appointment the GP prescribed antibiotics. There was no improvement and the next time our young client had a GP appointment in person she had been continuously wheezing and vomiting as soon as she ate anything. She was prescribed an inhaler.

It wasn’t until four months later that, after deteriorating symptoms, the youngster had an X-ray and the button battery was found in her oesophagus.  She had surgery to remove it, which was difficult as it had been there for so many months.  She has been left with scarring and the problems associated with that. Her parents only later found out that the battery from their remote control for the fan was missing.

Andrea says:

“When a child is displaying symptoms of vomiting and difficulty in breathing it is imperative that an X-ray is carried out urgently to see if they have swallowed anything which could have lodged itself in the oesophagus, so the object can be removed straight away. It is well known that very young children swallow all sorts of objects. It is alarming that this was not spotted until months later. Luckily for my client she has avoided even more serious injury.”

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