Parents must keep button batteries away from their children because they can cause serious or even fatal injuries, experts warn.
The small round batteries, often found in toys and remote controls, can cause chemical burns if they come into contact with the mouth or nose.
A new warning has been issued after health investigators studied the case of a child who died this year after swallowing one of the batteries.
And many Christmas items are powered by the batteries, potentially putting children’s lives at risk with everyday household items.
Button batteries trigger a chemical reaction when they come into contact with wet flesh such as that in people’s mouths, noses or ears, and the reaction can cause severe burns which can damage the airways and throat, and even be deadly
The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) issued the warning for parents to be aware of the batteries’ dangers and to store and dispose of them properly.
‘These batteries pose a very real risk to small children and babies,’ said HSIB’s medical director, Dr Kevin Stewart.
‘The consequences of swallowing a button battery can be truly devastating.’
Although the inquiry into the child’s death is still ongoing, investigators said they had seen enough to compel them to send out the safety message.
They batteries become dangeous as soon as they touch wet flesh like the inside of the mouth or throat, the nose or the ear, the experts warned.
Wet surfaces trigger a chemical reaction as the battery begins to release its charge, and this reaction can cause severe burns to living tissue.
If a battery is swallowed or inserted into the body it can cause internal burns within hours and lead to problems with swallowing and breathing.
And fatal injuries can occur even if the batteries are too dead to power something – so parents should make sure flat batteries are properly disposed of, warned Dr Rachel Rowlands, of Leicester Royal Infirmary.
WHY ARE LITHIUM BATTERIES SO DANGEROUS?
The slim type of battery are dangerous because children can mistake them for sweets and the size causes them to get stuck in the throat.
When the battery gets stuck, it sets up an electrical current when it comes in contact with the lining of the throat, creating a build-up of caustic soda which causes horrific burns.
Even after the battery has been removed it can continue to cause serious injury and burns.
Although new batteries are more toxic, even ones that no longer work are dangerous and parents are being advised to store and dispose of them carefully.
A demonstration on a hot dog, designed to replicate human flesh, showed how it burns and melts away in three hours.
Source: Paediatrician Dr Katie Parkins, North West and North Wales
‘Festive tea lights, singing Santas and flashing Christmas wands are all powered by lithium coin cell batteries,’ said Katrina Phillips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust.
‘Many of them are easily accessible to curious little fingers.
‘We’re concerned that small children put everything in their mouths, with potentially lethal consequences.
‘We’re encouraging families to keep potentially dangerous products out of reach of babies, toddlers and small children, and to be equally careful about where they store spare and used batteries.’
If a child is thought to have swallowed a battery they should be taken straight to A&E.
And younger children are at higher risk because they are more likely to pick up, play with and swallow unusual objects.
Batteries which are two or more centimetres wide can be even more dangerous because they are big enough to become lodged in a child’s throat.
HSIB’s Dr Stewart said: ‘We are calling on families this festive period to be extra vigilant and to put in place some basic precautions around their house.
‘It’s important that everybody knows these batteries can be found everywhere, from toys to gadgets such as remote controls, digital scales and car fobs.
‘The best way to protect children is to place everything securely out of reach and double check that all toys have screws to secure any batteries.’