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Toddler Dies After Swallowing Button Battery

Jun 11, 2013

This story just breaks our hearts. Last week, two-year-old Elaina Redding bled to death three weeks after swallowing a button-sized battery.

Her parents told CBS they believe she got the battery from a handheld Yahtzee game. Elaina swallowed the battery on May 2 and started clutching her chest, saying it hurt, her parents said. She had endoscopic surgery to remove the battery, and she was released on May 6.

On May 20, she began coughing up blood. She hemorrhaged to death about 2 AM on May 21. Elaina's esophagus and aorta eroded, causing the esophageal hemorrhage.

Elaina's mother, Donna Ryan, has a warning for all parents. "Put the batteries under lock and key," she says. "The nurse at the hospital said batteries are like bullets and you need to keep them locked up like that."

Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson says ingested batteries can be extremely dangerous for three different reasons:

  • The battery itself can block the airway or the intestinal tract.
  • Batteries contain alkali, which can corrode tissues
  • The voltage generated by the battery can cause a burn.

The National Capital Poison Center says, more than 3,000 people of all ages in the United States each year unintentionally swallow miniature disc or "button" batteries. Ten percent of kids who swallow button batteries die, according to the poison center. That's because batteries lodged in the esophagus can cause severe burns in just two hours. Within six hours, the battery can eat through the esophagus or the organ it is lodged against, and within eight to 10 hours, it can cause death.

Symptoms in children include refusing to take fluids, an increase in salivation, vomiting, and abdominal tenderness. But in one study, nine of 25 patients had no symptoms at all. That's why officials say do not wait for symptoms to develop before getting an X-ray. If the battery remains in the esophagus, it must be removed immediately.

Experts warn not to give your child ipecac if he or she has swallowed a battery.

This story reminds us that common household items -- like batteries -- can pose very real risks. Remember to keep batteries out of the reach of young children. If you have an older child, remind him never to put a battery in his mouth under any circumstances.

Our thoughts are with Elaina's family in this tragic time.

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Cara Natterson, MD
Pediatrician & Author

About Cara Natterson, MD

Cara Natterson, MD has treated thousands of children and guided their parents as well. She was a partner at Tenth Street Pediatrics in Santa Monica, California, a large group practice serving infants, children and teenagers. She now runs Worry Proof Consulting, the first of its kind pediatric practice that offers parents open-ended time to review everything from medical questions and biology basics to child development and parenting issues. Cara is also the author of several books on parenting and child health. She has a unique ability to translate cutting edge research into understandable terms for parents and their kids. More recently, Cara’s consulting has extended beyond individual families to include fortune 500 companies seeking expert advice on safety issues, child health, and crisis management.

Cara has appeared on television, in print, and on the web. She is a graduate of Harvard College and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and she trained in pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. Cara is a Board certified pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. And anyone who knows her knows that Cara is, by nature, one of the most risk-averse people on earth. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

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