Understanding the dangers of button batteries

Button batteries (lithium coin cell batteries) can injure or kill a child if they are swallowed.

If a button battery is swallowed and gets stuck in the food pipe, energy from the battery reacts with saliva to make a chemical that can burn a hole through the food pipe, leading to bleeding and death. This reaction can happen in as little as two hours.

Button batteries

If you think your child has swallowed a button battery, it’s really important to ACT FAST:

  • Trust your instincts
  • Don’t wait until symptoms develop
  • Take your child straight to A&E or dial 999 for an ambulance
  • Tell the doctor you think your child has swallowed a button battery
  • If you have the battery packaging or the product the battery was from, take that with you. This will help the doctor give the right treatment
  • Don’t let your child eat or drink
  • Don’t make them sick

Unfortunately, it’s not obvious when a button battery is stuck in a child’s food pipe. There are no specific symptoms, but you might notice your child:

  • Cough, gag or drool a lot
  • Have diarrhoea or be sick
  • Point to their throat or stomach
  • Have a pain in their stomach, chest or throat
  • Become tired
  • Be more clingy than usual or ‘not themselves’
  • Lose their appetite
  • Not want to eat solid food/be unable to eat solid food

These symptoms vary from one case to the next, so it can be difficult to identify. This is why it’s so important to follow the safety advice and avoid your child coming into contact with a button battery.

If your child vomits bright red blood, this is a specific symptom of swallowing a button battery so seek immediate medical attention by calling 999.

Where button batteries are found

Button batteries are commonly found in many things around the homes. These objects have buttons and surfaces that young children love to explore and play with. Many are also brightly coloured and appealing to children. These include:

  • Robot toys
  • Gaming headsets
  • Slim remote controls
  • Car key fobs
  • Key finders
  • Thermometers
  • Kitchen or bathroom scales
  • Musical cards
  • Novelty items like singing Santas and flashing wands
  • Fitness trackers
  • Flameless candles, nightlights and tea lights
  • Light-up fidget spinners and yo-yos

In the UK, batteries in children’s toys are covered by toy safety regulations. This means that during the production process, the battery compartment has been made so that it is difficult to access. However, toys bought from markets, overseas, online or from discount stores may not follow these safety regulations.

Who is at risk?

Children aged between one and four years old are most at risk, but younger and older children can still be at risk.

Babies and toddlers explore the world with their mouths and are naturally inquisitive, so will generally put anything that they come across into their mouths.

Older children may put a battery on their tongue or in their mouth to experience the feeling of the electrical charge.

The Child Accident Prevention Trust state that around two children a year have died as a result of swallowing button batteries in this country.

How can I keep my child safe?

  • Check devices and toys around your home for button batteries
  • Keep all spare batteries in a sealed container in a high cupboard
  • Keep items out of reach if the battery compartment isn’t secured
  • Put ‘flat’ or ‘dead’ batteries out of children’s reach and recycle them safely and as quickly as possible
  • Avoid toys from markets and discount stores 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

IF YOU THINK YOUR CHILD HAS SWALLOWED A BUTTON BATTERY, ACT FAST.

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Page last reviewed: 09-12-2019

Next review due: 09-12-2022