Foreign body ingestion in children presenting to a tertiary paediatric centre in South Africa: A retrospective analysis focusing on battery ingestion

J A Chabilall, J Thomas, R Hofmeyr


Background. Ingestion of foreign bodies remains a frequent reason for presentation to paediatric emergency departments worldwide. Among the variety of objects ingested, button batteries are particularly harmful owing to their electrochemical properties, which can cause extensive injuries if not diagnosed and treated rapidly. International trends show an increasing incidence of button battery ingestion, leading to concern that this pattern may be occurring in South Africa. Limited local data on paediatric foreign body ingestion have been published.

Objectives. To assess battery ingestion rates in a tertiary paediatric hospital. We hypothesised that the incidence has increased, in keeping with international trends. Secondary objectives included describing admission rates, requirements for anaesthesia and surgery, and promoting awareness of the problems associated with battery ingestion.

Methods. We performed a retrospective, descriptive analysis of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital trauma database, including all children under 13 years of age seen between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2015 with suspected ingestion of a foreign body. The ward admissions database was then examined to find additional cases in which children were admitted directly. After exclusion of duplicate records, cases were classified by type of foreign body, management, requirement for admission, anaesthesia and surgery. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the data in comparison with previous studies published from this database.

Results. Patient age and gender patterns matched the literature, with a peak incidence in children under 2 years of age. Over the 6-year period, 180 patients presented with food foreign bodies, whereas 497 objects were classified as non-food. After exclusion of misdiagnosed cases, the remaining 462 objects were dominated by coins (44.2%). Batteries were the causative agent in 4.8% (22/462). Although the subtypes of batteries were not reliably recorded, button batteries accounted for at least 64% (14/22). Most children who ingested batteries presented early, but more required admission, anaesthesia and surgery than children who ingested other forms of foreign body.

Conclusions. The study demonstrated that the local incidence of button battery ingestion may be increasing, although data are still limited.Admission, anaesthesia and surgery rates for batteries were higher in this cohort than for all other foreign bodies. As button batteries can mimic coins, with much more dire consequences on ingestion, our ability to expedite diagnosis and management hinges on a high index of suspicion. It is imperative to increase awareness among healthcare workers and parents.

Authors' affiliations

J A Chabilall, Department of Anaesthesia and Critical Care, Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

J Thomas, Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, and Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

R Hofmeyr, Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, and Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

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Foreign body; Ingestion; Paediatric; Button battery; Anaesthesia

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2020;110(7):652-656. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2020.v110i7.14481

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-07-07
Date published: 2020-07-07

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