Did you know button batteries can kill

Button batteries and children

Have you noticed how children are really attracted to shiny things, button batteries are shiny aren’t they?

On average, at least one child under 5 gets admitted to an A&E department in the UK each week because either the child has swallowed a button battery or the parents suspect they may have swallowed one.

We are in an age where most everyday gadgets have batteries in them like cars have electronic keyfobs, our watches have batteries in them, and your card reader for your bank account has button batteries too.

The majority of our everyday electronic gadgets have screw-down battery compartments or they are hidden behind a slide-out panel so where is the problem you are probably thinking?

Parents change the batteries and forget to discard them straight away and leave them somewhere where a child can find them such as on a worktop, or table or the child may have a cheap toy that is not covered by child toy safety regulations. These cheap toys rarely have a sealed battery compartment and the batteries fall out.

Apparently, from various sources that trading standards departments are in a constant battle to get these toys removed from sale and destroyed, recently as a test I bought a calculator from the internet and the battery was easily accessible.

What happens if they are swallowed?

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

Quite often during our Paediatric first aid courses, we do an experiment with some cheap supermarket ham and a button battery, and within a very short period, a chemical reaction starts, and the ham starts going discoloured (greyish black).

We leave this for a good couple of hours then we invite our learners to take a look. This shocks most of them and makes them realise how dangerous these small shiny batteries can be if they get ingested.

This is a very serious threat to a child, and all children at one time or another have put things in their mouths, certainly remember my children doing it.

button batteries

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, you should NOT give your child any fluids, food, or try to make them vomit because this could cause more damage as the battery is vomited out.

Even though the child may have vomited the battery out the child still needs to go to an A&E department as quickly as possible, the sooner they arrive the quicker something can be done for them.

Initially, the child may show no symptoms of swallowing a battery but later start having breathing difficulties or they 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 (a long thin tube with a light and camera on the end of it, with a little grabber) whilst the child is under general anaesthetic and can also assess the damage to the tissues that may have been caused by the button battery.

The hospital may decide that specialist treatment is required and then transport the child to a specialist children’s hospital to get the care the child needs and requires.

Battery Out, Now what?

The button battery may have caused significant damage to the tissues such as around the esophagus pipe (food pipe), vocal cords, or an internal bleed. This may lead to hospital treatment for the child over some considerable time.

So the sooner the child gets to the A&E department the better the chance of survival and making a good recovery.

Keeping children safe

We all know that small children are into everything and usually go in the mouth and button batteries can be fatal if swallowed.

  • Keep all batteries away from children and leave them in blister packs as needed.
  • Any old disused batteries need to be disposed of carefully and many supermarkets have battery recycling centres these days as do many high street outlets.
  • Battery compartments on children’s toys should be screwed shut to ensure they cannot be opened without tools so ensuring they can not be easily opened.
  • Learn first aid such as Paediatric 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 Children’s Hospital

Children’s magnets too

Another new potentially lethal fad is growing across the UK which involves magnets with similar outcomes as button batteries, to find out more read my blog about it.


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

Keep those batteries out of reach of the child and if the child’s 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 lying 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.

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