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Button Batteries - A Hidden Hazard for Kids

Child Safety Basics

By

Updated March 26, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Swallowing a button battery is another good reason to call poison control.

Swallowing a button battery is another good reason to call poison control.

Photo courtesy of the CPSC

Button batteries are small, disc-shaped batteries that are often used in small toys, games, remote controls, watches, pen lights, calculators and hearing aids. Some unexpected places that you might find a button battery include singing greeting cards, flameless candles, flashing shoes or your car keys.

As more and more products use these small batteries, reports of injuries in young children who unintentionally swallow them are unfortunately increasing. In addition to being a choking hazard, button batteries are a poisoning risk if they are swallowed, and they can cause severe burns, especially if they are lithium batteries. Button batteries can also cause problems if they get stuck in the nose or ears.

Hazards of Button Batteries

While some button batteries will quickly pass through a child's intestines and out in his stool, others can get stuck and quickly cause tissue damage. This can become a life-threatening situation very fast if it happens in the esophagus. Emergency surgery is often needed to remove the battery.

According to the National Capital Poison Center, in Washington, DC, there have been at least 18 deaths and 101 cases of severe esophageal or airway burns because of button-battery ingestions since they began recording statistics in 1977.

Among the most dangerous button batteries are those that are as big as a penny, such as the 20-millimieter lithium cell, which are often imprinted with the CR2032, CR2025 and CR2016 codes.

Button-Battery Safety Tips

To keep your kids safe, it is important to:
  • Keep button batteries, including used and spare batteries, out of reach.

  • Double check that all products with button batteries - which might include all smaller, powered household products - are kept away from younger children, and that the battery-storage compartment is well secured and requires a screwdriver to open.

  • Avoid changing the batteries in front of small children.

  • Clean out your child's toy chest and get rid of old toys with small batteries that don't work anymore.

  • Get rid of old household products with button batteries that you no longer use or that don't work anymore.

  • Consider that your child may have swallowed a button battery if he or she is choking or has trouble swallowing, as most ingestions are not witnessed.

It is also important to know the number to the National Battery Ingestion Hotline (202-625-3333) if you have any questions. You can also call your local poison-control center for help (1-800-222-1222).

Remember: A button-battery ingestion is a medical emergency. You should seek immediate medical attention for your child.



Sources:

CPSC Warns: As Button Battery Use Increases, So Do Battery-Related Injuries and Deaths Toddlers and Seniors Most Often Injured in Battery-Swallowing Incidents. http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml11/11181.html Accessed March 2012.

Litovitz, Toby MD. Emerging Battery-Ingestion Hazard: Clinical Implications. Pediatrics. Volume 125, Number 6, June 2010

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