Button Battery Awareness

Over the last few decades there has been a notable increase in electronics, toys, holiday decorations, watches, hearing aids, and other devices that are powered by button batteries in nearly all households. Due to this increase, there has also been a dramatic rise in button battery injuries by swallowing, the overwhelming majority occurring in children. Unfortunately, these small batteries, ones often smaller than 20mm (25mm = 1 inch) in diameter, can cause severe injury to the esophagus, trachea, or major vasculature (blood vessels or arrangement of blood vessels in an organ) in as little as two hours. That’s why it’s critical for parents and other caretakers to be knowledgeable and aware of the dangers of button batteries and take all precautions to prevent children from a potential ingesting them.

What Steps Can I Take to Prevent Injuries?

Given the severe complications that ingested button batteries can cause within a short period of time (two hours), preventative strategies cannot be stressed enough. Securing the battery compartment of the product is the single most important intervention required to prevent battery ingestion injuries. Another option would be to try and avoid obtaining products that require button batteries, if possible. Do not leave any loose or accessible button batteries out in the open or within children’s reach.

There has been a dramatic increase in the severity of cases with button battery ingestion over the past 15 years, especially with the use of 20mm lithium cells. Being knowledgeable about the devices and toys that require button batteries is also helpful, as well as what size and type of battery is required:

  • Hearing aid batteries are the most reported ingested batteries out of all devices. These batteries are usually smaller in diameter (7.9 or 5.8mm) and pose somewhat less risk when swallowed compared to larger 20mm lithium cells.
  • 20mm lithium cells are roughly the size of a penny, so the increased diameter allows these batteries to get stuck in the esophagus more often. 20mm batteries are commonly used for games and toys, watches and stopwatches, flameless candles, bathroom and kitchen scales, and key fobs.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery has recently released a Position Statement encouraging battery manufacturers and the battery industry to adopt new, safer button or coin cell battery technology that will not cause severe injury inside the body. You can read this Position Statement here.

What Should I Do If I Suspect a Child Has Swallowed a Button Battery?

If a parent or caretaker does not witness the actual ingestion, it can be hard to diagnosis this problem because symptoms—drooling, vomiting, fever, decreased eating or drinking, difficulty swallowing, cough—can mimic other common disease processes in children, such as viral illnesses. But if you suspect that a child might have swallowed a button battery, even if you didn’t witness it, it is recommended to get immediate medical help in the emergency room. You can also reach the poison control hotline for guidance if someone swallows a button battery by calling 800-498-8666.

In addition to seeking immediate medical care, here are some other suggestions from the Poison Control Center that can be helpful:

  1. If available, provide the battery identification number, found on the packaging or from a matching battery.
  2. Do not induce vomiting. You can give two teaspoons of honey on the way to the emergency room, but only if the battery was likely swallowed in the last 12 hours. Otherwise, do not allow the child or patient to eat or drink until evaluated by an emergency care provider and x-rays have been taken to show where the battery is located.

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The information on ENThealth.org is provided solely for educational purposes and does not represent medical advice, nor is it a substitute for seeking professional medical care.