UAE: 13 kids hospitalised after swallowing button batteries, magnetic ball toys in 2022

Doctors urge parents to look out for certain symptoms if the suspect their child has ingested a battery


Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Wed 6 Jul 2022, 1:52 PM

Last updated: Thu 7 Jul 2022, 8:47 AM

Swallowing button batteries could kill your child, experts at Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital in Dubai warn after an alarming increase in the number of kids being hospitalised for button battery ingestion (BBI).

Thirteen children have been admitted to the hospital in the first half of this year alone, needing an endoscopy for swallowing button batteries and magnetic ball toys, compared to 16 cases in the whole of 2021, with most of them needing prolonged hospitalization and abdominal surgeries from bowel perforations.

Button batteries are small coin-shaped batteries that can be found in electronic devices, such as remote controls, calculators, LED lights, watches and key fobs. The shiny surface of the battery can be very appealing for a child to play with and cause accidents.

In December last year, the hospital witnessed the death of an 18-month-old who had swallowed a button battery.

"The chemicals in the button batteries can burn holes through the oesophagus of a child, especially a young one because their food pipe is so thin with adjacent large blood vessels, causing them to bleed to death," said Dr Christos Tzivinikos, head of Paediatric Gastroenterology at Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital.

"The child that was brought to us too late. Nobody realised that he had swallowed the button battery, and he bled to death in his sleep."

BBI can lead to life-threatening complications and death if not identified early and dealt with quickly, as damage can occur within 2 hours.

According to international research, most BBIs occur in children under six years old and mostly occur among one-year-olds, who also have the highest risk of complications. Batteries impact the food pipe and boys are three times as likely to swallow these foreign objects than girls.

Dr Christos Tzivinikos advised parents to rush their children to Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital if they suspect a BBI ingestion in Dubai.

"We have a pediatric endoscopy service at all times," he said. "Also, we have a specific protocol to follow in case kids have swallowed foreign objects. In a lot of cases, precious time can be lost in locating a specialist and figuring out what the issue is."

"We once had a case where a child came to us almost two months after BBI ingestion. They had been to many other hospitals who were not able to understand what the issue was. Luckily for the child, the battery was lodged in such a way that it had not caused lasting damage."

He cautioned parents to watch out for these symptoms in children:

  • Vomiting or coughing up blood
  • Drooling
  • Swallowing difficulty/pain
  • Irritability
  • Coughing
  • Black, tar-like, sticky faeces
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • High-pitched, wheezing sound when breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Fever

A similar risk is posed by magnetic ball toys, which have gained popularity in recent years.

"Throw out those magnetic balls," said Dr Christos Tzivinikos. "These balls, with their strong attraction, can pinch the bowel loops and create holes in the bowels of children if they are swallowed."

"Unlike button batteries, magnetic balls are completely unnecessary," he said. "They pose a huge risk and need to be completely removed from the house. Although the risk of swallowing is higher in younger children, I would still recommend getting rid of them even in households with older children. Even adolescents have the tendency to put these balls in the mouth out of curiosity."

BBI has been a special interest for Dr Christos Tzivinikos, who is also a member of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) and the Button Battery Ingestion Taskforce Group.

"Button batteries are here to stay," he said. "So many devices use them. It is important to educate parents the severity of the issue. BBI can lead to life-threatening complications and death if not identified early and dealt with quickly, as damage can occur within two hours."

He went on to explain that most BBI accidents happen at home.

"This is the reason why we have seen a huge increase in the number of cases in the last few years," he said. "With the Covid-19 pandemic, children were home a lot more. We had one case where a baby swallowed a button battery after a young sibling put it in the baby's mouth. As far as kids are concerned, button batteries are small and shiny and it awakens their curiosity. That is why parents have to ensure safety and prevention of BBI at a home setting and be very vigilant not to allow button batteries to lie loose around the house."


Doctors recommend the following tips for parents to ensure safety:

  • Identify which devices use button batteries in your home
  • Do not leave discarded button batteries around the home
  • Take waste batteries to a collection point or at least store them out of sight and reach of young children
  • Securely fasten the battery compartment after replacing a button battery

Here's what parents must do if they suspect children have swallowed button batteries or magnetic balls:

  • Do not let your child eat or drink
  • Do not induce vomiting
  • Seek immediate medical attention at Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital's emergency room. If possible, take the appliance containing the battery or the original product packaging

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