Dangers of button batteries

by Lois Lee, MD, MPH on May 24, 2010

Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Emergency Department Injury Prevention Program will be featured on ABC’s Nightly News later this week as part of a segment on the dangers of ‘button batteries.’ In an effort to better inform our readers, Lee wrote a Thrive post specifically detailing the dangers these tiny batteries pose to kids, and offers tips for parents on how to help keep their children safe from accidentally ingesting of one.

Lois Lee, MD, MP

Lois Lee, MD, MPH

Working in the very busy emergency room here at Children’s Hospital Boston, I have unfortunately had to take care of many children who have placed foreign objects in their noses or ears, or have swallowed a foreign object like a coin. Inevitably, parents usually ask me, “Why did they do it?” Often, the only answer I can give them is, “Because they can.”

Thankfully, most objects that children swallow or place in theirs ears and noses aren’t potentially fatal. But there is one type of object parents should be especially careful to keep away from their children—button batteries, which are small, flat and round—the perfect shape to get stuck in a child’s esophagus or trachea. They’ve become incredibly popular, being used in everything from watches to signing birthday cards. Not only can these buttons cause a blockage of the esophagus or trachea, but lithium button batteries can actually kill tissue and cause a hole in the esophagus or trachea. These types of holes can develop in just two hours and can lead to significant illness or even death.

Button batteries pose many threats to kids including choking and tissue damage

Button batteries pose many threats to kids including choking and tissue damage

Button batteries are especially problematic because, often, when a child swallows or chokes on one, the incident is not witnessed. So here are a few tips to help prevent button battery ingestions altogether:

1)      Make sure there are no loose batteries around that a child may find and put in their mouth. If you’re changing a button battery, do it on a surface out of reach of a child. Then immediately place the “dead” battery out of reach of the child—even “dead” batteries have enough charge left to produce acids than can eventually lead to tissue damage if there’s prolonged exposure.

2)      Don’t allow children to play with these batteries.

3)      If you have a device that uses this type of battery, make sure the battery device on the cover is secure so your child can’t remove it.

4)      Store button batteries like you would any medication—out of reach of your children. This means either in a cabinet out of a child’s reach or in a child-proofed locked area.

If you’re suspicious that your child has swallowed a button battery, or has placed one in his/her nose, seek medical attention immediately. A button battery is visible on X-ray. If one is present in the esophagus, trachea, ear, or nose, it must be removed as soon as possible to prevent serious damage.

1 comment

  • Anonymous

    One would think it is common sence to NOT leave a battery lying around, especially if there are little children around.

    You want battery companies to display warnings on the packaging, yet how many people actually will read the packaging. The only part people read on the packaging is the type and battery size that they require.

    I feel sorry for your little boy as you neglected him. You owe him a duty of care as parent not to leave such dangerous small items of any kind around the household.

    You made the comment to be more careful with such items. I THINK YOU SHOULD TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE.

    Don’t look to blame anyone common sence would prevail.

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