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Know the hazards of a button battery

April 28, 2015

Written by Timothy Hadley, DO

Each year children ingest an array of foreign bodies including coins, magnets, and a new subset of batteries known as button batteries. Awareness of this small yet very dangerous foreign body is important for parents to understand so they can act quickly if their child is suspected of ingestion.

What is a button battery?

A button battery is a cylindrically shaped object measuring 5-25 mm in diameter and 1-6 mm high- about the size of a button on a garment. Button batteries are used to power small portable electronics such as pocket calculators, hearing aids, remote controls, and wrist watches.

How common is button battery ingestion?

Every three hours, a child or teenager will visit an emergency department to be examined or treated for battery ingestion. From the most recent data in 2009, Emergency Departments saw nearly 6,000 U.S. children for button battery related exposures.

What’s the risk?

Coin-size lithium batteries possess a strong electrical charge when out of the electronic unit. If swallowed by children, they become lodged in the upper esophagus (food pipe) and react quickly with saliva. This reaction causes injury to the soft tissue (sometimes even resulting in a hole in the esophagus) and can result in serious injury in just 2 hours.

What does it look like when children have swallowed a button battery?

Some children may have no noticeable signs or symptoms while others may experience pain, cough, vomiting, irritability, fever or increased heart rate. If you suspect foreign body ingestion, it is very important that you immediately bring your child to the hospital for further evaluation.

The golden two hours.

Prompt medical intervention is essential when parents find an opened remote control or a missing battery that may have been swallowed by an infant or young child. Children with suspected battery ingestions must be taken to the nearest pediatric emergency room for immediate evaluation.

Prevention is the best medicine:

  • Ensuring that children do not have access to button batteries is the best way to prevent battery-related injuries.
  • Parents should check products that use button batteries to see if the battery compartment requires a tool such as a screwdriver to open and that it is securely closed.
  • In addition, batteries should be stored out of children’s reach and disposed of safely.

Important things to remember:

  • The button battery is a hazardous material and should be treated as a life-threatening foreign body due to its electrochemical composition and the potential for severe injury if swallowed.
  • Seek medical care immediately for all children under 12 years of age who ingest button batteries. The size of the battery and presence of symptoms cannot be used to reliably detect batteries lodged in the esophagus in these patients.
  • Prompt removal of the button battery is very important due to the amount of damage it can cause inside the body.
Although button batteries pose a significant risk to children, awareness and education about the dangers can help reduce these incidents from happening in your home. Be aware of these hazards, and if you suspect that your child may have swallowed a button battery, seek medical help immediately.

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