They look safe. They are safe. But medics are warning that button batteries could present a fatal risk to youngsters if misused.
Two top Lancashire doctors have now issued a warning about the potential dangers batteries can present when swallowed in error.
The pre-Christmas alert follows two deaths in the northwest in the last two years, including a fatality in Blackpool, and two cases of life changing injuries, after youngsters swallowed the batteries.
Lancashire’s Director of Public Health Dr Sakthi Karunanithi and consultant paedaetrician Dr Nicola Bamford want anyone buying toys and other gifts containing button batteries, or seeking to replace them in goods they already own, to be aware of the risks they could present.
They say the batteries should be regarded as a potential poison and kept in a safe place out of the reach of children. All toys should also be checked to ensure battery covers are securely locked.
Dr Bamford, who sits on the Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board’s pan-Lancashire Child Death Overview Panel, said: “You wouldn’t leave a glass of bleach on your fireplace and these batteries are just as deadly as bleach. We are coming up to Christmas and there will be lots of toys, ornaments, jewellery, gifts containing button batteries.”
She stresses that from a child’s viewpoints the batteries could present an irresistible attraction: “They are shiny, they are interesting and they are deadly. If they are swallowed on contact with flesh(mucous membranes) on the tongue or gut they do their job. They set up a current which is what they are designed to do and as a side effect they produce sodium hydroxide - caustic soda, and this eats away at whatever they are sited on and it causes burns.”
She warned that children have had their oesophagus and gullet damaged so badly that they needed reconstructive surgery.
“If they are unlucky and the battery goes down the other way the caustic soda can eat through the lining of the oesophagus and into large blood vessels that lie behind causing catastrophic bleeding.”
Dr Karunanithi said: “It’s all about being safe while enjoying Christmas. We’re raising awareness these batteries need to be secure. Children under six years of age are most at risk and for a three year old the batteries don’t look very different from some sweets.”
The two doctors stress that if someone does swallow a battery call emergency services on 999 immediately and never try to remove it. Do not try to make the patient vomit.
•The doctors also urged people to be sensible about where they set up TVs, following cases of children being killed or injured when TVs have toppled on them.