Button batteries are incredibly dangerous and frighteningly, they are responsible for the death of children every year! Parents are often totally unaware that the child has swallowed one of these tiny batteries. The first indication that there is a problem could be when the child starts vomiting blood. Unfortunately that is often too late.
Babies and toddlers are at particular risk as they explore the world by putting things in their mouths. Button batteries burn and can cause serious damage within minutes.
What are button batteries?
Button batteries and lithium coin batteries are small, round, batteries used in toys, cards, watches, key fobs, calculators, hearing aids and numerous other everyday objects. They look to be totally harmless and you would think that if your child would swallow them, they would pass straight through and out the other end. Whist sometimes the battery can come out the other end, with no problem, sadly it is usually not the case.
What would happen if a child swallowed one?
We need batteries in loads of electronic gadgets around the home. Hospitals are reporting an increase in life-changing injuries resulting from these innocent-looking culprits. If a child swallows one and it gets stuck at any point in its journey; then it continues to emit its charge (even if it was already considered to be ‘dead’ or out of charge when swallowed). This creates corrosive caustic soda which burns through the tissue and causes horrendous damage and internal bleeding. Often it is too late to repair the damage and surgery is unable to save them.
Lithium coin batteries are particularly dangerous. These have a higher voltage and so release more energy and are more corrosive. In just a few hours the damage can prove fatal. In most cases, parents have no idea their child has swallowed a battery until they start vomiting blood. By then, it is often too late to help as irreparable damage has already occurred.
Prevention and vigilance are key:
• Always check that battery compartments on electronic gadgets are securely fastened (usually with a screw).
• If a battery is missing and you think it likely your child may have swallowed it, take your child to A&E for an x-ray to be sure.
• Secure battery compartments with a screw; otherwise ensure you keep the gadget safely out of the reach of children. Avoid buying products that do not conform to EU safety standards.
• Store spare batteries carefully; somewhere inaccessible to children, ideally in a high-up, lockable cupboard. Button batteries are potentially as dangerous as medicines and your cleaning products. Thus, you should treat them as such.
• Inform your whole family about the dangers of button batteries.
• Recycle used batteries safely as these are dangerous too.
If you think your child may have swallowed a button battery, act fast!
Remember that the saliva in their body will react with the battery and so time is very much of the essence.
• Take them to your nearest A&E as quickly as possible. Remember that the saliva in their body will react with the battery and so time is very much of the essence.
• Tell the triage nurse that you think they have swallowed a battery. Take the gadget with you so the staff can identify the type of battery you are worried about.
• Do not wait for any signs or symptoms
• Do not try to make them sick
• Make sure you do not give them anything to eat or drink. They may need an anaesthetic in order to be operated on.
Your child will be x-rayed to establish whether the battery is there or not and if so, where it is lodged. If necessary, they will be taken for an operation to remove the battery as a matter of urgency.
Please do follow this advice on how to prevent accidents happening in the first place. Also spread the word on how to keep children safe around button batteries.
Watch this button battery burn through ham:
RoSPA and the Child Accident Prevention Trust are both running national campaigns about the dangers of button batteries. They aim to make parents aware of the extreme dangers of these small unassuming batteries in order to raise awareness and save lives.
The Child Accident Prevention Trust concerns button batteries – Where are yours? #BeBatteryAware. It is a campaign designed to encourage parents to know where lithium coin cell batteries are in their homes, as well as those in products and additionally, spare and ‘flat’ batteries. This is so they can keep them out of children’s reach and keep children safe.
Report from RoSPA: According to the National Capitol Poison Centre in the USA, there are around 3,500 incidents every year in the USA where swallowed batteries require urgent treatment. Australia sees hospitals admitting four children a week after they had swallowed batteries.
Great Ormond Street Hospital
London-based Great Ormond Street Hospital reported a rise in treating cases of children who had swallowed a button battery. Over a decade ago, cases were uncommon. In 2016, the hospital estimated it was treating one child per month.
Find out more from GOSH here: https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-we-treat/button-batteries-using-them-safely
Who is most at risk?
Sadly, according to the Child Accident Prevention Trust, at least two children a year have died as a result of swallowing lithium coin cell batteries in this country.
Children most at risk are between 1 and 4 years, but younger and older children can also be at risk.
Older children can be fascinated by them too. In some cases, in order to experience the tingling sensation of the electrical charge on their tongue, older children may deliberately put one of these batteries in their mouth.
Find out more here: https://www.capt.org.uk/button-batteries
This topic is so important that we cover it and the dangers of other corrosive substances on all our paediatric courses. Ensure you would know how to help in an emergency. Book on one of our practical or online courses now.
First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.