CHICAGO - Swallowing button batteries can be fatal or cause serious harm, and research suggests that severe injuries in children, though relatively scarce, are on the rise.

The dangers are highlighted in a new medical report about 10 cases at a Utah hospital, including seven that caused severe damage, and in last week's recall of more than 1 million Chuck E. Cheese battery-containing toys. There are no reports of children injured by the Chuck E. Cheese toys, but the toys were recalled because swallowing batteries can be so dangerous.

The Archives of Otolaryngology published a report yesterday from doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City about 10 cases treated there between 1998 and 2008. All were babies and young children; many required major surgery.

Button batteries are widely used in dozens of household products including toys, games, remote controls, musical greeting cards, cell phones, watches and lighted shoes. Batteries pose a special swallowing risk; even if they don't completely block the throat, they can trigger a chemical process when they lodge there that can burn through tissue within just a few hours.

"These are bad news. They have to be removed immediately," said Dr. Fuad Baroody, a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist at the University of Chicago. Baroody said his hospital treats about two to three children each year with battery-related injuries.

In the throat, "the window for safely removing batteries is only two hours," said Dr. Toby Litovitz, director of the National Capital Poison Center. When surrounded by moist tissue, batteries can create an electrical current that combines with body fluids to form a caustic lye-like chemical, she explained.

Aidan Truett, a 13-month-old boy in Hamilton, Ohio, died last November when a dime-sized battery burned through his esophagus and burst his aorta.

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