Button batteries and kids

Kids and button batteries dont really go together do they but on average a child under 5 gets admitted to an A&E department each month because the parents suspects or knows that their child had swallowed one.

We use button batteries a lot in the modern world in such things as electronic key fobs, calculators, watches etc, often our electronics come with a spare battery so they are everywhere we look and because they are small and shiny kids are attracted to them.

What happens if swallowed?

Button batteries very rarely leak but when a battery comes into contact with saliva or mucus a reaction occurs and a substance similar to ‘caustic soda’ which is a very strong alkaline and this can burn through body tissues very quickly.

Even a battery that we think is dead has the potential to release the alkaline when it comes into contact with saliva or mucus, so any button battery regardless of size, fully charged or dead is a threat to a child.

Have they or haven’t they?

If you suspect that your child has swallowed a button battery then they need to go to A&E as quickly as possible, do NOT give your child any fluids, food, or try to make them vomit as this could cause more damage as the battery is vomited out.

This will be in addition to any damage the battery has caused initially. So getting the child to A&E is top priority, the sooner they arrive the quicker something can be done.

Sometimes initially the child may show no symptoms of swallowing a battery but later start having breathing difficulties or start to feel unwell, if the child has swallowed a battery then they may start to cough up or vomit blood and they need to get to A&E very quickly.

What happens at A&E

A&E will Xray the child to see how big the battery is and its location and will try to retrieve it if possible with an endoscope (long thin tube with a light and camera on the end of it) whilst the child is under general anesthetic, they will also assess the damage to the tissues that may have been caused.

They may decide specialist treatment is required and transport the child to a specialist childrens hospital too.

Battery Out, Now what?

The button battery may have caused significant damage to the tissues around the oesophagus pipe (food pipe), could have damaged the vocal cords, may have caused an internal bleed, all these will require treatment and may need treatment over a length of time.

On the other hand these can be fatal too, so the sooner the child is at A&E the better.

Keeping kids safe

We all know with small children everything goes in the mouth and button batteries can be fatal if swallowed.

  • Keep all batteries away from children and leave in blister packs till needed.
  • Any old disused batteries need to be disposed off carefully, many supermarkets have battery recycling centres these days as do many high street outlets.
  • Battery compartments on childrens toys should be taped shut to ensure they cannot open them or the battery compartment can be easily opened.
  • Learn first aid so you have the skills needed in a first aid emergency to help your child till emergency services are on scene.

To learn more about the damage button batteries can do and why you should seek medical help swiftly here is a link from Great Ormond Street Childrens Hospital


Prevention is far better way forward than facing the consequences of a child swallowing a button battery, if in doubt get them to hospital as fast as you can or call the emergency services.

Keep those batteries out of reach of the child and if the childs toy has a battery compartment to make it work, ensure they cannot get it open.

Old batteries dispose of them at a battery recycling centre ASAP and not leave them laying around, children love shiny things and they go in the mouth and then problems start.

Take a first aid course so in the event of a medical incident you have the skills to help till the emergency services arrive to take over.