VILSECK, Germany -- The numbers are staggering; more than 5,000 children in the United States annually swallow or insert button cell batteries into their nose or ears.
The trend is worrisome, and as electronic toys become increasingly smaller and smaller batteries more powerful, the odds of children putting batteries in their mouth, ears or nose become more likely, said Thomas Zirkelbach, Safety Manager for Bavaria Medical Department Activity.
"It will happen because we were all little ones, and we put things in our mouth that we shouldn't have and probably even swallowed it," Zirkelbach said. "If that should happen, immediately seek medical assistance. Go to a doctor."
Parents need to understand the dangers associated with a child accidently ingesting a battery, Zirkelbach said, and what they can do to prevent a child from getting a hold of these batteries.
Most batteries contain lithium, zinc or other heavy metals with properties like alkaline, said Lt. Col. Gayla Wilson, BMEDDAC's Deputy Commander for Nursing. When the elements are introduced to a moist environment like the nose, mouth or ear canal, electrical charges or chemical reactions can serious damage tissue. The battery and mucus can cause ulcers or other complications.
"Research has shown that most of it occurs in people below the age of 5," Wilson said.
Statistics show that about 89 percent of people were able to recover the battery before there was any damage, but even a few hours of exposure to a moist tissue could cause ulcers, Wilson said. Damage has been known to occur within an hour.
"If you had a battery out and can't find it and there is a small child around who may have ingested it, it is better to seek medical attention and let us rule it out," Wilson said. "While you think it might pass and not be a big deal, it could cause substantial problems internally, so please seek medical attention."
The same advice is encouraged for a battery that is stuck in an ear or nostril.
"Be cautious; like alcohol or lighters keep batteries out of the reach of children," Zirkelbach said, who is a former Emergency Medical Technician. "Based on my paramedical experience, parents should not attempt to remove the batteries from the nose or ear."
Parents should seek medical attention and allow experts to remove the object from the child's nose or ear, Zirkelbach said.
"Don't try to self-extricate," Wilson said. "By you trying to go in and fetch it, you're going to push it down further and will create an increased likelihood of an ulcer being formed."
Preventing batteries from getting into a child's possession is the safest way to avoid a visit to the emergency room, Zirkelbach said.
"If parents do give their kids toys that are battery operated, they should consider sealing the battery compartment," Zirkelbach said. "Make it childproof. Be proactive in a way to mitigate the risk from the batteries being exposed to kids."
Wilson had similar advice.
"Keep the batteries locked up," Wilson said. "Keep them away from children and make sure that the toys that hold the batteries have a screwed mechanism or something that is going to keep those batteries in place."
"It truly is vital that those batteries stay out of the reach of our small children," she said.