They may be small, but if a child swallows a button battery; even a used one, it can burn through soft tissue in just two hours causing horrendous internal injuries and even cause death.
Car remotes, calculators, thermometers, musical greeting cards, flashing novelty goods and kitchen scales – button batteries are everywhere in a variety of objects in and around the home.
In Australia, an estimated 20 children per week present to a hospital emergency department suspected of having ingested or inserted a button battery and children aged 0-5 years are particularly vulnerable.
One of these 20 children sustains a severe injury requiring a procedure to remove the battery or repair damage.
Learn more about the risks of button batteries in the home, how to reduce these risks and what to do if you suspect your child has swallowed one.
What are the risks of button batteries to young children?
A new button battery or a flat lithium button battery when it mixes with saliva creates an electrical current that causes a chemical reaction and burns through soft tissue in as little as two hours but may take days. Depending on where the button battery becomes lodged when ingested, it can burn the oesophagus, stomach, lungs, larynx or bowel, causing catastrophic injuries and even death.
Even after a coin-sized button battery is removed, the burning can continue and repairing the damage may require multiple surgeries.
Who is most at risk from button batteries?
Young children (0-5years) are particularly vulnerable to choking on or ingesting a button battery because of the relative small size of their esophagus and because they are curious and are most likely to put objects in their mouths in their ears and up their noses.
Button batteries are small, can give a slight buzz on the tongue and look appealing to small children – like a lollie – so they are tempting to a child.
Read more about risks of choking and suffocation here
How to avoid the risk of button batteries
Many of the products that contain button batteries are not classified as toys and therefore don’t have to meet the same safety standards that toys do.
Be Button Battery Aware:
- Reduce the number of products in your environment that are powered by button batteries. Although injury can still occur with cylindrical batteries this is much less common. Can you source products with enclosed batteries (USB rechargeable) or powered by alternative batteries or power sources?
- Secure button batteries and the products they power. If purchasing button batteries select those in child resistant packaging when available. Products need to be durable and the battery compartments child resistant. If dropped or the compartment is prised open will the battery be released?
- Know which products in your home have button batteries. Regularly check that the battery is still secured in the child-resistant compartment. Where you can, keep them out of reach of small children (though beware climbers!)
- Dispose of spent and unused batteries immediately and safely – ‘flat’ batteries are still dangerous. Tape them both sides with sticky tape as they come out of the product. This reduces fire risk if you are storing them for recycling and makes them a tricky mouthful to swallow. Kids can be like vultures waiting to pounce!
- Recognise the signs and symptoms of unwitnessed ingestion; gagging, drooling, unable to eat properly, noisy breathing, chest pain (grunting) vomiting or passing black or red blood.
- Respond immediately if you suspect someone has swallowed or inserted a button battery. Not every health facility has the capacity to assess or manage a button battery injury, so you should call your local Poisons service for fast expert advice. Anywhere in Australia, call 131126
- Warn others about the dangers of button batteries.
What are the symptoms of swallowing a button battery?
A range of symptoms are associated with ingestion of a button battery:
• gagging or choking
• chest pain (this may present as grunting)
• coughing or noisy breathing
• unexplained vomiting or food refusal
• bleeding from the gut — black or red vomit or bowel motions
• nose bleeds — sometimes this can be blood vomited through the nose
• unexplained fever
• abdominal pain
• general discomfort
• spitting blood or blood-stained saliva
• or no symptoms at all
These symptoms are often associated with other conditions so it is important to consider them in light of the likelihood that your child has had access to button batteries or equipment that may contain button batteries.
If you suspect your child has ingested a button battery
- If your child is having any difficulty breathing, call 000 immediately.
- Contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 and you will be directed to the nearest hospital or emergency service that can manage the injury.
- Prompt action is critical. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
- Do not let the child eat or drink until an X-ray is taken.
- Do not induce vomiting.
Safe disposal of batteries
Fires can occur anywhere that batteries are stored together and, even a single button battery can ignite!
Wrap battery terminals with sticky tape before disposing or, better still, taking to a recycling centre.
Wrapping both sides of a button battery will not only assist with the prevention of fires, but children and dogs will be less likely to swallow them.
Summer’s Day is named in memory of a little girl who lost her life after swallowing a button battery that burned through her oesophagus and into her aorta. Summer represents the 75 Queensland children who die each year from unintentional, preventable injuries and the 90,000 Queensland children who attend emergency departments or are admitted to hospital each year.
Who are we?
Kidsafe Queensland is a not-for-profit, non-government organisation with a vision for a safer world for our kids at home, at play and on the road. For more than 40 years, we have been keeping kids out of hospital by teaching parents and caregivers how to prevent injuries with evidence based, practical safety advice. We have travelled the safety journey with over 20,000 Queensland families and the conversation always starts when baby arrives.
If you would like to order some flyers please call Kidsafe on 07 3854 1829.