September 22, 2009

FDA warns about emergency button hazard

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cautioning users of personal emergency response buttons worn around the neck of a potential choking hazard.

The FDA said it received six reports between 1998 and 2009 of serious injury or death, including four deaths in the United States, from choking after the cord on the Philips Lifeline Personal Help Button became entangled on other objects worn around the neck.

There are more than 750,000 users of these devices in the United States, the FDA said in a statement. By pushing the 'help' button on the device when in distress, users can call for emergency assistance to their home.

The company said the device is used primarily by seniors living independently, who feel they are at risk for falls or other medical emergencies.

The Lifeline pendant button is designed to not break away when tugged, which prevents it from accidentally falling off. However, because it doesn't break away, there is a risk of choking, including the possibility of serious injury or death, the federal agency said.

The FDA said it recommends users consult their health care providers to determine which style of emergency button, including those that are worn on the wrist, is most beneficial for them.