Look around the house. There's danger hiding in plain sight. Seemingly harmless items like key fobs, electronics, watches, hearing aids, singing greeting cards, remote controls and even children's toys contain "bite-sized" or button batteries that can cause serious, even fatal injuries if swallowed.

So far this year, the New Jersey Poison Control has referred 11 children to hospital emergency rooms for swallowing button batteries, said Dr. Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

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Health damage caused by swallowed batteries

She said it does not take very long for a battery to begin to cause serious injury once it gets stuck inside the body. Button batteries have been around a long time and could always cause a burn in the esophagus, creating a burn that won't heal.

Calello said that since 2012, there have been fatal injuries at a much higher rate because there larger button batteries that conduct more current. The larger button batteries, which are about 20 millimeters, look almost like the size of a quarter. They can burn through an esophagus and surrounding tissues in about two hours.

Signs that your child has swallowed something

Besides choking, if a child won't eat or drink or seems to be drooling or has pain around the mouth, parents should suspect they swallowed something. Calello said it's usually children around pre-school age that need to be watched the most.

Button batteries and household items that contain them need to be kept out a child's environment. Don't be fooled by dead button batteries either, said Calello. It can still conduct enough current to create a burn.

Pets are just as curious as young children. It's easy for them to swallow a button battery from an item left around the home. Pets can suffer the same serious, even fatal health consequences too. 

Magnets also are a danger to kids and pets

Besides button battery hazards, magnets can also be choking hazards. But Calello said a single magnet may pass through just fine, but if a child swallows two or more magnets, they can attract one another inside the body, causing a twist in the intestines, a blockage or an obstruction.

Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery or magnets.

"Do not wait for symptoms to develop — irreversible damage may have occurred by the time signs appear. This was the case a few years ago in New Jersey when a young child died after ingesting a button battery," said Calello.

Call the New Jersey Poison Control Center for any treatment advice, 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222.

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