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Button Batteries & Other Choking Hazards

Babies between 6 months and 3 years old explore the world by putting objects in their mouths, and, around the holidays, there are small objects aplenty. From ornaments to miniature toys, choking hazards are easy to find.

Happily, at least four out of five swallowed items pass through a child’s digestive system on their own. But this process could take up to four weeks. To make sure the object has been expelled, parents should check their child’s stools.

If an object gets inhaled and caught in your child’s windpipe, you should immediately dial 911 or call your community’s designated emergency number. This can be life-threatening. If swallowing makes your child suddenly start to wheeze, choke, or have trouble breathing, treat it as a medical emergency.

Swallowed objects can also block the esophagus or lodge in the lower digestive tract, causing symptoms such as:

  • difficult or painful swallowing
  • drooling
  • hoarseness
  • chronic coughing with no known cause
  • chest or stomach pain
  • vomiting

If your child has these symptoms, do not induce vomiting. Instead, seek prompt medical attention.

That said, most children experience no immediate symptoms, even after swallowing something sharp. The same is true of button batteries, which can cause internal harm or even be life-threatening if swallowed.

Button batteries are the round batteries that likely power some of the small electronics in your home. You may find button batteries in:

  • Pocket calculators
  • Wrist watches
  • Bathroom scales
  • Thermometers
  • Games and toys
  • Cameras
  • Holiday ornaments

If your child swallows a button battery, it’s important to go directly to the emergency room, regardless of symptoms. An x-ray may be needed to locate the battery. When found, it will have to be removed immediately.

Best Prevention Practices

These measures can help prevent your child from swallowing or inhaling foreign objects:

  • Watch your kids carefully when they eat and play.
  • Baby-proof your house by bringing yourself down to your child’s level. Get on your hands and knees and search for dangerous items your child might find.
  • Keep small household items and toys with small removable parts out of toddlers’ reach. Be sure to remove common offenders, such as latex balloons, coins, marbles, tiny balls, pen caps, button-type batteries, and pins and needles.
  • Never give children younger than age 4 hot dogs; nuts and seeds; large chunks of meat or cheese; whole grapes; hard, gooey, or sticky candy; popcorn; chunks of peanut butter; raw vegetables; raisins; or gum. These foods can cause young children to choke.

To find out more about performing first aid when your child swallows a foreign object, visit HealthyChildren.org. You can also learn how to get certified in First Aid or CPR from the American Red Cross.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Red Cross, Krames Staywell

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