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Young families warned about dangers of button batteries ahead of Christmas

Published 10/12/2015

Eva McCaffrey was 14-months-old when she swallowed a lithium button battery which eroded her oesophagus. She is now aged five and back to full health. Pic Belfast Trust
Eva McCaffrey was 14-months-old when she swallowed a lithium button battery which eroded her oesophagus. She is now aged five and back to full health. Pic Belfast Trust
Lithium button batteries are common in Christmas gifts ranging from musical cards to remote controls

A safety charity is warning young families about the dangers of potentially fatal lithium button batteries now common in Christmas gifts ranging from musical cards to remote controls.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said it was increasingly concerned about the danger posed by the small, button-shaped batteries and was aware of deaths reported in the UK as a result of children swallowing them.

Eva McCaffrey was 14-months-old when she swallowed a lithium button battery which eroded her oesophagus. She is now aged five and back to full health. Pic Belfast Trust
Eva McCaffrey was 14-months-old when she swallowed a lithium button battery which eroded her oesophagus. She is now aged five and back to full health. Pic Belfast Trust

It urged caregivers to be vigilant, warning that Christmas could see an increase in the batteries around the home within children's toys, musical cards, remote controls and other electronic items.

As well as the risk of choking, the batteries can cause serious damage to the gastrointestinal system.

Lithium batteries react with saliva, setting up an electrical current resulting in a build-up of caustic soda, which burns through the oesophagus and other major blood vessels, the charity said.

Eva McCafferty, now aged five, from Northern Ireland, was admitted to hospital with life-threatening symptoms when she swallowed one of the batteries at 14-months-old.

She needed emergency surgery to remove the battery, which had eroded her oesophagus, and spent a prolonged time in intensive care.

Her mother Kathleen said: "We want to highlight the dangers to other families, as we were not aware of how devastating the effects of swallowing one of these batteries could be.

"We don't want any other children to have to go through what Eva did."

RoSPA public health adviser Sheila Merrill said: "Young children are naturally inquisitive and explore the world in part by putting things in their mouths.

Eva McCaffrey was 14-months-old when she swallowed a lithium button battery which eroded her oesophagus. She is now aged five and back to full health. Pic Belfast Trust
Eva McCaffrey was 14-months-old when she swallowed a lithium button battery which eroded her oesophagus. She is now aged five and back to full health. Pic Belfast Trust

"As more and more electronic items are introduced into the family home, the potential for children to swallow button batteries increases, and this can lead to choking or poisoning.

"We want parents, grandparents, childminders and carers to be aware of the danger and understand that these seemingly harmless little batteries can cause serious injury to children."

RoSPA advises caregivers to ensure that the batteries are contained within lockable compartments and recommends that children do not have access to musical Christmas cards, flameless candles and remote controls.

Eva McCaffrey was 14-months-old when she swallowed a lithium button battery which eroded her oesophagus. She is now aged five and back to full health. Pic Belfast Trust
Eva McCaffrey was 14-months-old when she swallowed a lithium button battery which eroded her oesophagus. She is now aged five and back to full health. Pic Belfast Trust

Spare batteries should be locked away and spent ones disposed of safely and correctly.

Medical advice should be sought immediately if a child swallows a battery.

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