A LEAD emergency medicine consultant in Cork City is appealing to parents to be mindful of the dangers of button batteries in toys this Christmas.
Dr Darren McLoughlin, from the Mercy University Hospital, said that there were a number of presentations at hospitals last Christmas relating to suspected button batteries.
The parents took their children to hospital after suspecting they had swallowed the button batteries, which are small and a choking hazard to young children.
Dr McLoughlin said that because batteries are getting smaller, children are more susceptible to swallowing them and risking untold bodily damage.
“The key thing for us to watch out for is button batteries, because they are corrosive to the tissues inside the body, the oesophagus, and the stomach,” he said.
“If there is any suspicion that a child has swallowed a button battery, the safest thing to do is to bring them straight to their nearest emergency department.”
Dr McLoughlin said that finding out what a child has swallowed often requires investigation.
“There is often a lot of detective work when a child comes to us,” Dr McLoughlin said. “A lot of the time, we will have some work to do to find out what they have actually swallowed. Small magnets are particularly dangerous, because they can attach themselves to each other, once further down in the intestinal tube.”
Last Christmas was a busy one for Dr McLoughlin and his team.
“We had a number of children during the Christmas period who came to us with small toys that had been inserted into ears and noses,” Dr McLoughlin said.
“Others had swallowed toys. It’s always helpful when a parent brings us a similar toy to the one that has gone missing — or even a picture of it — because it gives us a chance to examine it,” he said.
“Young children and toddlers explore their world by putting things in their mouths and are liable to ingest or swallow all kinds of different things they come in contact with. That’s why it’s so important to keep toys and small parts out of reach. We have to exercise extreme caution in whatever way we can to ensure a child’s safety. A typical Christmas scene is children surrounded by packaging and wrappers. People tend to be more relaxed around Christmas, but parents have to stay alert, as there are so many choking hazards.”
Distraction techniques are necessary to put the child at ease in the emergency department.
“Distraction techniques are very important,” Dr McLoughlin said. “It can be unsettling for children to be in unfamiliar surroundings, so we recommend that parents bring their favourite blanket or toy to make them feel more at home. If they have a teddy bear, we’ll explain what’s going to happen to them first. If parents don’t have a toy with them, we will have something to give to the child.”
Many children seen by the team have suffered bicycle or scooter accidents.
“We see many children with head injuries caused by bikes, some of whom have gone over the handlebars,” Dr McLoughlin said. “Some are unable to anticipate the speed they are going at and lose control. We like to see children being active. This is something we encourage, but we have one piece of advice for Santa: If he is bringing a bicycle for a boy or girl this year, we just ask that he brings a helmet for them, too.”
Dr McLoughlin also advised parents to check for the CE mark, before purchasing, to ensure a toy complies with safety regulations and standards. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) recently destroyed 50,000 such toys, which had been recalled.
South MEP Deirdre Clune weighed in on the topic, emphasising serious concerns around the safety of many toys purchased online.
“There are so many dangerous toys being sold online and it is now more important than ever that we protect consumers,” Ms Clune said. “Many people will be buying toys online, especially this year, and it is important that we do what we can to ensure that what consumers are buying for their children are safe. We must have the same rules for what is illegal offline to be illegal online also.”