Common food item an unlikely remedy to parent’s worst nightmare

12 Jun 2018

Image: Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock

It can be a terrifying moment to see your child eating a tiny button battery, but new research shows that a little honey could make it go down a lot safer.

Typically found in watches and smaller items, button batteries are perfect for small items that have a long shelf life.

However, because of their size and sweet-like shape, these batteries inadvertently end up in the stomachs of thousands of toddlers each year, with estimates putting the number at 2,500 cases a year in the US alone.

If a parent sees their child swallowing the battery, they have every right to be worried because when the battery reacts with saliva and tissue of the oesophagus, it creates a hydroxide-rich, alkaline solution that essentially dissolves tissue and can cause serious damage in as little as two hours.

Symptoms typically include a sore throat, cough, fever, difficulty swallowing, poor oral intake or noisy breathing, and it can cause severe complications such as oesophageal perforation, vocal cord paralysis and erosion into the airway or major blood vessels.

Luckily, in a paper published to the online journal The Laryngoscope, a team of researchers from the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia has discovered a common household item that may just give kids a better outcome if swallowed after consuming the battery.

That item is honey and, if given to the child, it may significantly reduce morbidity and mortality from highly caustic batteries.

A sweet, sweet barrier

To determine this, the team tested a whole range of common palatable, viscous liquids found in the home to create a protective barrier between the tissue and the battery, including juices, fizzy drinks and sports drinks.

“We explored a variety of common household and medicinal liquid options, and our study showed that honey and sucralfate demonstrated the most protective effects against button battery injury, making the injuries more localised and superficial,” said Kris Jatana of the research team.

“The findings of our study are going to be put immediately into clinical practice, incorporated into the latest National Capital Poison Center guidelines for management of button battery ingestions.”

Previous studies in this area tested weakly acidic liquids such as lemon juice as a proof of concept but, as you would expect, children found the sweet taste of honey more palatable than the sharpness of lemon juice.

The team recommends to parents that if their child swallows a button battery, they should give them honey at regular intervals until they can reach a hospital where staff can then use a medication called sucralfate before removing the battery.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic