North West doctors Christmas plea after surge in children swallowing dangerous objects from toys

Batteries like this often come from gifts or lights. Credit: PA

Doctors in the North West are encouraging parents to be alert to the dangers of small toys this Christmas after surgeons have had to perform life-saving operations to remove batteries in previous years.

The number of children being admitted to hospital after ingesting small objects has doubled over the last 10 years to 228, according to the latest data.

The warning comes as children wake up to new presents and toys with small - and potentially hazardous - parts on Christmas Day morning.

NHS doctors are particularly concerned by small button batteries which often come in gifts and festive lights, TV remotes, watches, thermometers and even musical Christmas cards.

The batteries can be smaller than sweets. Credit: PA

The tiny batteries can burn through a young person’s throat, food pipe or other internal body part, in a very short period of time if swallowed, causing irreversible damage.

If not spotted a battery can become get lodged and leak alkali over a period of time, creating a huge abscess cavity in the chest that can be fatal.

Young children are particularly likely to put small objects in their mouth and the Child Accident Trust say at least two children a year die in the UK from swallowing the batteries, while survivors may end up with life-changing alterations to their anatomy.

NHS national clinical director for children and young people and consultant paediatric surgeon at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital NHS FT, Professor Simon Kenny, said: "This time of the year is meant to be one of joy as families come together - and the last thing anyone wants is to spend Christmas at hospital as their child undergoes life-saving surgery.

"But unfortunately we are seeing an increase in the number of children at hospital because they have swallowed a foreign object - double the number we had 10 years ago - and the consequences can be devastating, especially when that object is a button battery or magnetic ball causing irreversible damage."

The number of children under 15 who were admitted to hospital and required treatment after ingesting a small object has risen from 115 in 2011/12 to 228 in 2021/22 according to NHS Digital data.

This data is for children aged 0-14 and does not account for food, water, or other liquid like bleach, or for anyone that did not require hospital admission because for example they were treated in the community or died before being admitted to hospital.

The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital saw a rise in cases during the pandemic likely due to children being at home with toys more and has called on parents to be very attentive to what is left lying around and in reach of children this Christmas.

Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. Credit: PA

Dr Rachael Barber, Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital’s Medical Director, said: "At this time of the year we see a spike in inhaled and swallowed foreign bodies which unfortunately means more children being referred to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital in need of life-saving, major surgery.

"Button batteries are the leading item causing life threatening injuries often with lifelong repercussions but magnets are a real problem too.

"The batteries are particularly destructive because they can cause problems in two ways – firstly, if there is residual charge in the battery then it will set up an electric current causing the battery to leak alkali which causes serious caustic damage too.

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