Button batteries, especially big, powerful lithium coin cell batteries, can badly injure or kill a child if they are swallowed and get stuck in the food pipe.
Button batteries are small, round batteries that come in many different sizes and types. Lithium button batteries (often called ‘coin batteries’ or ‘coin cell batteries’) are the most powerful. They power many of our devices at home to make our life more convenient.
If a lithium coin cell battery gets stuck in a child’s food pipe, it can cause catastrophic internal bleeding and death within hours of being swallowed.
So it’s important to keep spare and ‘dead’ lithium coin cell batteries and any objects with easily accessible lithium coin cell batteries out of children’s reach, and to act fast if you think your child may have swallowed one.
Children most at risk are between 1 and 4 years, but younger and older children can also be at risk.
Why are button batteries dangerous?
Most button batteries pass through the body without a problem. But if a button battery — particularly a lithium coin cell battery — gets stuck in the food pipe, energy from the battery reacts with saliva to make the body create caustic soda. This is the same chemical used to unblock drains!
This can burn a hole through the food pipe and can lead to catastrophic internal bleeding and death. The reaction can happen in as little as two hours.
Button batteries are also dangerous if they get stuck in a child’s nose or ear.
The size and power of the button battery and the size of the child matter. With a large, powerful lithium coin cell battery – for example a 3V CR2025, CR2032 or CR2330 – and a small child, the risks are greatest.
How can I keep children safe?
- Look round your home for lithium coin cell batteries — in products as well as spare and ‘flat’ batteries
- Keep all spare batteries in a sealed container in a high cupboard
- Keep products well out of children’s reach if the battery compartment isn’t secured
- Put ‘flat’ or ‘dead’ batteries out of children’s reach straight away and recycle them safely and as quickly as possible
- Avoid toys from markets, discount stores or temporary shops as they may not conform to safety regulations, and take care when buying online or from overseas
- Teach older children that button batteries are dangerous and not to play with them or give them to younger brothers and sisters
No obvious symptoms
Unfortunately it is not obvious when a button battery is stuck in a child’s food pipe. There are no specific symptoms associated with this. The child may:
- cough, gag or drool a lot
- appear to have a stomach upset or a virus/ be sick
- point to their throat or tummy
- have a pain in their tummy, chest or throat
- be tired or lethargic
- be quieter or more clingy than usual or otherwise ‘not themselves’
- lose their appetite or have a reduced appetite
- not want to eat solid food / be unable to eat solid food
But these sorts of symptoms vary. Plus, the symptoms may fluctuate, with the pain increasing and then subsiding.
One thing specific to button battery ingestion is vomiting fresh (bright red) blood. If the child does this then seek immediate medical help.
The lack of clear symptoms is why it is important to be vigilant with ‘flat’ or spare button batteries in the home and the products that contain them.
IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR CHILD HAS SWALLOWED A BUTTON BATTERY, ACT FAST
- Take them straight to the A&E department at your local hospital or dial 999 for an ambulance
- Tell the doctor there that you think your child has swallowed a button battery
- If you have the battery packaging or the product powered by the battery, take it with you. This will help the doctor identify the type of battery and make treatment easier
- Do not let your child eat or drink
- Do not make them sick
- Trust your instincts and act fast – do not wait to see if any symptoms develop