A new button battery dyes kids’ mouths blue if swallowed

Energizer has designed a new lithium coin battery that releases a blue dye immediately upon interacting with moisture such as saliva. The marker offers parents a visible way to determine if their children accidentally swallowed one of these toxic products.

After two decades of steady integration into everything from key fobs and remote controls to cooking thermometers and smart watches, lithium button batteries are now extremely commonplace household items. Unfortunately, their ubiquity coincides with a major, ongoing spike in the number of children ingesting the small batteries. Over 70,300 emergency doctor visits were reported for children’s battery-related issues between 2010 and 2019. Of those, nearly 85 percent involved button batteries.

Apart from the choking hazard, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission warns a battery’s chemicals can cause severe bodily injury, and even death, within a matter of hours if ingested. Additionally, the electric current generated by saliva’s interactions with a battery can simultaneously burn through body tissue, leading to even more potentially lethal complications. Every year, thousands of emergency hospital visits occur because of ingesting batteries.

[Related: What to expect if your child swallows a button battery.]

To help address the continuing public health concern, Energizer recently partnered with the children’s safety nonprofit Reese’s Purpose to design a safer button battery, as well as even stronger childproof packaging.

Apart from a bitter-tasting, nontoxic coating increasingly found on similar products, the company’s newest coin-shaped batteries are also wrapped in a container that requires scissors to open. But even if a child does get their hands on one, parents and caretakers will almost instantly be able to see if they need to contact emergency medical services.

Described as a “color alert technology,” the battery’s dotted, negative underside releases a nontoxic, food grade blue dye when mixed with moisture, such as spit. According to Energizer’s website, the batteries contain about as much dye as an ounce of a flavored sports drink, and will disappear after a few water rinses or teeth brushing.

Hamsmith started the nonprofit advocacy group in honor of her 18-month-old daughter who died in 2020 after swallowing a remote control’s coin battery.

Regardless of childproofing innovations, however, caretakers should immediately take a child to medical professionals if they suspect battery ingestion. The National Capital Poison Center warns against inducing vomiting and instead suggests having any child over 12 months old to swallow honey. Doing so can coat the ingested battery, and thus help delay some chemical burning of internal tissue while en route to receiving medical attention. That said, children younger than 1-year-old shouldn’t eat honey, so rushing them immediately to the emergency room for an X-ray is the best approach.

In the event of suspected emergencies, parents are encouraged to call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline (800-498-8666) or Poison Control Center (800-222-1222).

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