Kids and adults alike received many toys over the recent holiday season. Many of these toys have something in common—they are powered by button batteries. Button cell or disc batteries are coin shaped batteries used in electronic items such as toys, remote controls, hearing aids, musical greeting cards, calculators, and other small devices.
If a battery is swallowed, it can cause severe injury or even death. In fact, a two year old child from Oklahoma died over the Christmas weekend after ingesting a button battery. Her family did not even know how she got it.
The worst case scenario is that the battery will get lodged in the esophagus of a toddler. When that happens, the battery can actually conduct an electric current and severely damage the tissue. This can happen within a few hours. Take a look at the photos below: a button battery is placed into a hotdog, simulating getting stuck in the esophagus. The second photo is that same hotdog 3 hours later. Imagine if that was a child’s esophagus!
Most injury from button batteries are caused when the battery is swallowed, but believe it or not, serious harm can also be done if these batteries are lodged in other places, for example in a nostril.
The larger button batteries have been implicated in the most serious injuries to children, specifically lithium batteries that are 20 mm in size or greater. This battery is the perfect size to become lodged in the esophagus of a child and these larger batteries are powerful enough to generate a larger current. A 20 mm button battery’s size is between that of a US penny (which is 19 mm) and a US nickel (which is 21 mm). Studies have shown that exposures to and significant injuries from button cell batteries have been on the rise in recent years, correlating with the increased household use of 20mm lithium button cell batteries.
Early symptoms after button battery ingestion include coughing, gagging, difficulty swallowing, and vomiting. Tissue damage caused by a button battery can cause bleeding and perforation (a hole in a body passage or cavity, such as the esophagus).
Here are some tips to help keep children safe from button batteries:
- Know which items and devices in your home have button batteries. Button batteries can be found in things that you might not even realize—for example musical greeting cards and children’s toys.
- Tape up battery compartments of toys and remote controls securely to reduce access to button batteries and closely supervise children who are playing with devices that are powered by button batteries. If the battery compartment cannot be secured (for example a greeting card), keep it out of reach and out of sight of children.
- If you suspect that a child could have ingested a button battery, call the IPC (1-800-222-1222) or take the child to the emergency department immediately. DO NOT wait to see if symptoms develop. As shown in the hotdog picture above, severe damage can occur in just 2-3 hours and symptoms may not start until serious damage has already started.
If ingestion of a button battery is suspected, an X-ray will be performed to check to see where the battery is in the body. A battery in the esophagus must be removed immediately. In the case of button batteries prevention is the best medicine! Call the IPC at 1-800-222-1222 for questions about button batteries (or any potentially harmful substance) and click here to request a free safety information packet. Click here for examples of other potentially harmful substances children ingest.