Small but deadly – what you need to know about button batteries

by | Nov 4, 2020 | Home Safety

In Australia, around 20 children per week are admitted to hospital because they have ingested a button battery. Car remotes, calculators, musical greeting cards, flashing novelty goods and kitchen scales – button batteries are everywhere in a variety of objects around the home. Fully charged or flat, button batteries are still a serious danger, particularly to young children. 

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 showing the battery is beyond the oesophagus.  
  • Do not induce vomiting. 

What are the risks of button batteries to young children? 

Even a flat button battery has sufficient charge that when it mixes with saliva creates an electrical current that then causes a chemical reaction that burns through soft tissue in just two hours. 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. 

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. Follow these simple steps to be button battery aware: 

  • Always keep button batteries or objects with button batteries, out of reach of young children, on a high shelf or in a locked cupboard  
  • When buying new batteries make sure they are in child resistant packaging  
  • Don’t leave old button batteries lying about or put them in the bin. Dispose of them thoughtfully by collecting them and recycling 
  • Make safe choices when buying products. Battery compartments should require two movements to open and or be secured with a screw. 

What are the symptoms of swallowing a button battery? 

A range of symptoms are associated with ingestion of a button battery: 

  • gagging or choking 
  • drooling 
  • 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. 

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. 

Take charge of button batteries around your home 

Identify | Secure | Elevate | Eliminate 

Indentify all items in your home that contain button batteries. Examples include children’s toys, remote controls, watches, cameras, bathroom scales, musical greeting cards and flashing novelties. 

Secure the battery compartment. Make sure the battery compartment can only be opened with a screwdriver or by applying two distinct and separate movements. 

Elevate button batteries and items containing button batteries out of reach of children. 

Eliminate button battery items from your home by buying alternate products that use regular batteries or a different power source. Safely dispose of any items you no longer need. Dispose of used button batteries immediately. Flat batteries still contain enough charge to generate an electrical current once ingested and cause serious injury. 

Other resources: 

Product safety and recalls :

Summer’s Day is named in memory of a little girl who lost her life after swallowing a coin/button battery that burned through her oesophagus and into her aorta. Summer Steer 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.

Need some advice?

Kidsafe Qld’s mission is to provide evidence-based practical advice to empower parents and caregivers to make informed choices to prevent childhood injuries. We are at your service and welcome any questions you might have around injury prevention and keeping kids safe at home, on the road and at play. 
Call 3854 1829 

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