Beware of Button Batteries

Button batteries can cause ongoing health problems if ingested and are found in many common household items, particularly during the holidays.
button battery on a finger for article on button batteries

During the holidays, flashing decorations and flameless candles are displayed; remote control devices and car key fobs are tossed on tabletops; musical cards line bookshelves, and toys are exchanged. What many of these seemingly harmless items have in common is that they can be lethal to children because they contain coin-sized lithium batteries, or “button batteries.”

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, each year more than 2,800 kids are treated in emergency rooms after swallowing button batteries. Button batteries are used in many common devices, and curious children may put them in their mouths, ears or nose.

While many people assume that the biggest risk from swallowing button batteries is choking, that is not the case. The biggest risk is burning, says Beth Washington with Safe Kids Tulsa Area, led by The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis.

“When a button battery is swallowed, the saliva triggers an electrical current,” Washington said. “This leads to a chemical reaction that can cause severe damage to kids in as little as two hours. Once burning begins, the results can affect a child for a lifetime.”

Washington related the story of a child who ingested a button battery and spent more than eight months in a pediatric ICU. He has endured more than 30 surgeries, including a partial reconstruction of his esophagus and airway.

Parents should be vigilant in identifying devices powered by button batteries and in keeping them out of reach and sight of children. For items such as a remote control, placing a piece of duct tape over the battery opening can make it more difficult for a child to access. Always keep loose batteries locked away.

If parents or caregivers suspect that a child has swallowed a button battery, the child should be immediately taken to the emergency room, even if the child is not yet showing symptoms. Do not allow the child to eat or drink. Do not try to make him or her vomit.

“We mainly see ingestion [of batteries], and, unfortunately, there may not be any signs at first,” Washington said. “Kids can still breathe with the coin lithium battery in their throat. Symptoms of button battery ingestion, such as coughing, drooling and discomfort, may be similar to symptoms of other childhood illnesses. After time, the child may vomit blood.”

If you need help, call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 800.498.8666.

Symptoms to Look For

A child may not immediately show symptoms, so if you suspect your child has swallowed a button battery, immediately go to the emergency room.

If your child swallows a button battery, he or she may have the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Not wanting to eat or drink
  • Throat pain
  • Vomiting

If your child puts a button battery in his or her nose or ear, look for the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Fluid drainage coming from ears or nose
  • Pain or swelling around the ears or nose

Sometimes there are no symptoms.

Staying Safe

  • Look for every battery-powered device in and around your home and where your children stay. Make sure that the battery is secured, only accessible using a tool, such as a screwdriver. If this is not an option, keep electronic devices well out of the sight and reach of children.
  • Keep loose batteries out of the sight and reach of children and store them in a locked cabinet or container.
  • Watch children carefully while they are using devices that contain batteries.
  • Act fast if you suspect your child has placed a battery inside his or her body. Go IMMEDIATELY to the nearest emergency department.
  • Share this information with other people, so everyone can stay safe.
Categories: safety