Button batteries for toys can kill children if they are swallowed and must be kept hidden away, an NHS chief has warned.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, urged parents to be vigilant this Christmas, when there will inevitably be more batteries around.
They are found in festive lights, musical Christmas cards and flashing jumpers as well as toys and remote controls.
Also known as ‘coin batteries’, they can burn a hole through the throat and lead to catastrophic internal bleeding and death in as little as two hours.
In September, two-year-old girl, Elsie-Rose, from Sheffield, nearly died after swallowing one that was likely plucked from a toy.
And last week, five-year-old Shaylah Carmichael, from Melbourne, was placed in an induced coma having suffered for six months before a battery was discovered lodged in her throat.
Professor Powis said: ‘For toddlers, button batteries can look like sweets and are found in anything from toys, musical Christmas cards and festive decorations, so we want to ensure parents are aware of the dangers of these potentially lethal batteries.
‘The best way to protect children is simply by keeping batteries out of reach for children and ensure that any toys that require the batteries are firmly locked into the battery compartment.
‘If you think your child may have swallowed a battery, urgently take them to A&E, and our incredible NHS staff – thousands of whom will be on shift on wards on Christmas Day – will be there to look after your child.’
Elsie-Rose was rushed to Leeds General Infirmary for emergency surgery earlier this year when she swallowed a button battery.
Her mother, Kirsty Duffy, 29, claims she was told to kiss her daughter ‘one last time’ before being wheeled into life-saving surgery.
What was believed at first to be a penny turned out to be a lithium battery lodged in the top of her oesophagus, located around the chest area.
Earlier this year, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch issued a report featuring five safety recommendations to avoid similar occurrences to Elsie-Rose’s.
They include improving button and coin cell battery safety and design, and supporting the clinical detection of ingested batteries.
Paramedics and other health professionals should have support and guidance to spot the signs of a swallowed battery.
Ingestion of small batteries can sometimes go undetected or be likened to another illness. Children have been misdiagnosed with infections due to constant vomiting or tonsillitis due to a sore throat.
The advice came after an unnamed three-year-old-girl accidentally ingested a 23mm battery in December 2017 which wasn’t discovered until a post-mortem after her death.
She had suffered with vomiting, stomach pain, a sore throat and an inability to see in the six days prior to her death, and had been prescribed antibiotics for tonsillitis twice.
The lithium battery eroded tissue and caused a fistula – an abnormal pathway – between the oesophagus and the aorta – the large artery from the heart – leading to the ‘catastrophic’ internal bleeding.
Two weeks ago, Kirra Carmichael, mother of a five-year-old girl who survived swallowing a battery, told parents to avoid buying battery-powered toys completely.
She revealed how her daughter, Shaylah Carmichael, suffered unexplained illness and weight loss for six months before doctors finally did an X-ray and found a swallowed battery.
NHS England has advised parents to follow the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) guidance on how to protect children from the small batteries.
RoSPA advises parents to make sure that products using button batteries have lockable compartments so it’s difficult for children to open them.
Ashley Martin, RoSPA public health adviser said: ‘We would encourage people to be vigilant in ensuring that all products that contain button batteries are kept well away from young children.
‘Christmas is a particularly important time as so many additional novelty products that contain button batteries, including musical cards, and battery-powered decorations are around the house.
‘It’s important to remember how harmful these products can be if picked up and swallowed.