Hospital issues health warning over button batteries and magnetic balls

Button batteries and magnetic balls found in children’s toys can cause life-changing injuries if swallowed, Christmas shoppers have been warned.

The small, round batteries can burn through a child’s windpipe or oesophagus if they are accidentally ingested, doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) said.

Magnetic balls, which are popular with school children and can be moulded together to form different shapes, also pose a serious health risk if swallowed.

Button batteries warning
Button batteries warning

The magnetic force between the small balls could “rip holes” within the intestine if they are ingested while unconnected to each other, GOSH said.

Parents have now been urged to consider the dangers of both items when buying toys for children this Christmas.

Joe Curry, senior consultant and specialist in neonatal and paediatric surgery at GOSH, said: “An active button battery would burn through a steak in 30 minutes and this is the same with the oesophagus.

“Swallowing a button battery would cause burns through the windpipe and trachea and cause a child’s lungs to become flooded.

“This kind of damage could cause difficulties with swallowing and breathing for the rest of their life.”

Parents should take their child to hospital immediately if they suspect they may have swallowed either item.

Mr Curry added: “We had a case this year in our intensive care unit where a child swallowed some magnetic balls and the attractive force caused perforation of the bowel.

“This is really serious – swallowing a magnetic toy could cause peritonitis (which is) an inflammation of the abdominal wall – (It would) require a temporary stoma to be fitted, require a child to have part of their bowel removed or it could even be fatal.”

GOSH said “lengthy surgery” would be required to save a child’s life if they swallowed either a button battery or a magnetic ball.

A four-year-old girl required surgery at the London-based hospital over the summer after swallowing one of the batteries.

The item had “badly eroded” while in her oesophagus and stomach but she suffered no lasting damage after it was removed, GOSH said.

Her mother Valerie Collins said: “With Christmas approaching, I would urge everyone buying presents for children to be mindful about the toys you buy.

“Lots of children’s toys can be very easy to take the batteries out of and many toys come with lots of different parts.”

Katrina Phillips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust said: “If you buy from an online marketplace, toys may not meet UK safety standards.

“That’s because online marketplaces are simply offering a shop window to sellers around the world and aren’t legally required to check if a toy is safe before allowing it to be sold.

“If you can, head to reputable retailers or buy direct from the websites of well-known brand names.”