By Grant D. Lackey, PharmD, FCSHP
- Keep button batteries out of reach of children.
More and more children are being injured, or even dying, from swallowing buttons or disk batteries. A tragedy can easily be prevented. Batteries stuck in the esophagus must be removed as quickly as possible as serious damage can occur in just 2 hours. Batteries in the nose or ear also must be removed immediately to avoid permanent damage. Batteries are a source of power for all our electronic gadgets. Secure the battery compartment on remote controls, key fobs, cameras, watches, flameless candles, and every battery-powered product. If these larger lithium batteries are swallowed, they are more likely than smaller batteries to get stuck in a child’s esophagus, on the way down to the stomach. This can cause a burn right where the battery stops. The child may develop severe bleeding, leading to death; tissue injury that requires tube feeding; paralyzed vocal cords; and many other problems that require surgery and long recovery times.
Children MUST be prevented from reaching or handling button batteries. Button batteries, used for any purpose, from toys to hearing aids, MUST be used, and stored in a way that prevents children from handling them: lock new batteries away, store used batteries safely, tape up battery compartments that are not child-resistant, and track down any missing batteries immediately.
Prompt action is critical. Don’t wait for symptoms to develop. If the battery was swallowed, don’t eat or drink until an x-ray shows the battery is beyond the esophagus. If a battery is swallowed or placed in the ear or nose, immediately call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 800-498-8666. If the child is choking or not breathing, call 911.
- Mind your medicines. Use child-resistant packaging.
Mind the medicines when you travel or have visitors in your home. Provide visitors with a safe place to put their medicines, purses, and suitcases. Use child resistant packaging and replace caps securely. Of children treated in an ER for medicine poisoning, over 40% got into a grandparent’s medicine. Surprisingly more grandparents identified electrical outlets than medicine as a top safety issue, but 35 times more children go to the ER for medicine poisoning!
- Decorate with nonpoisonous plants.
Avoid holly and mistletoe berries. Place poisonous plants well out of children’s reach. Place poinsettias where children and pets can’t reach them. It is a rumor that the poinsettia plant is deadly. Untrue, the poinsettia can be irritating but it is not fatal if eaten. If children and pets eat it, they can develop a mouth rash and stomach upset. Put other houseplants out of reach, too. Even if they’re not dangerous, they could cause choking if children or pets take a bite.
- Keep alcoholic drinks away from children!
Alcohol causes a child’s blood sugar to drop, leading to seizures, coma, and even death. Clean up drinks and cigarette butts right after the party; don’t leave them for the kids to find the next morning.
- Assign someone to keep an eye on each child during parties, dinners, and get-togethers.
- Beware of Christmas ornaments.
Christmas ornaments can be attractive to young children and pets. They can break very easily. Ingesting, stepping, or crawling on the glass is a problem, but some ornaments also contain lead and mercury. Some older, bubbling ornaments contain a toxic liquid, methylene chloride, which can cause poisoning if children touch, taste, or swallow them. Even though some broken ornaments are sharp, small glass pieces usually pass through the digestive tract uneventfully. When any foreign body is swallowed, it typically comes with a risk of choking or blocking the airway.
Consider keeping glass ornaments in storage until children are at least 6 years of age. As children under 6 years of age make up most calls to Poison Control.
Even if glass ornaments are put up high on a Christmas tree, they might still be accidentally knocked down. Make sure all ornaments are well secured.
If you are worried that an older, glass ornament might contain lead, keep a piece in a safe container to do a lead test.
Call the California Poison Control Center for any poisoning mishap:
Be prepared. Put the poison control number in, on, or near your phone.