What are button batteries?
Button batteries - which can also be called LR44 batteries, button cell batteries, or coin batteries - are extremely dangerous to children if swallowed. They can be found in toys, remote controls, car keys, musical greetings cards, and small electronic devices such as calculators and weighing scales.
Why are button batteries so dangerous?
Although a child may not choke if they swallow a button battery, the batteries can do serious internal damage. When combined with saliva, the electrical current from the battery produces caustic soda that can burn through the throat or stomach and can cause further damage to other internal organs. The video on this page gives an idea of the sort of damage a button battery can cause.
How many cases have there been?
RoSPA is aware of a number of deaths and some serious injuries in the UK as a result of children swallowing button batteries. In one incident, a child swallowed a battery the size of a 10p coin that became stuck in her throat for four months. Her father only noticed there was something wrong when his daughter would only eat puréed food. When she was taken to hospital, X-rays revealed a watch battery lodged in and burning her oesophagus.
This is one of many cases that have been highlighted in recent years. In 2018, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch published a report into the death of a child. It made recommendations on the packaging and labelling of batteries and the need to raise awareness of the dangers and treatment of children who have swallowed button batteries.
The danger of button batteries has also been talked about internationally. According to the National Capitol Poison Centre in the USA, there are around 3,500 incidents reported every year where swallowed batteries require urgent treatment. The Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit in Australia also estimates that four children a week are admitted to hospital after swallowing batteries.
How can I keep my child safe from button batteries?
- The Toy Safety Regulations require toys that use button batteries to have lockable battery compartments. Check that these are secure and undamaged and do not use toys that don’t have lockable compartments. Take care when changing batteries to make sure the compartment is secured afterwards and the old battery is disposed of safely.
- Be extra vigilant with items including musical greeting cards, flameless candles, remote controls and electronic devices as most of these will not have lockable compartments. RoSPA advises that children should not be allowed to have access to these products if the battery compartment is not secure.
- Ensure that spare batteries are locked away, and used batteries are disposed of correctly as they can still cause injury. Once they are replaced, store them securely out of reach, and recycle them as soon as possible.
What should I do if my child swallows a button battery?
If you think your child may have swallowed a button battery, seek medical advice immediately. Remember that the saliva in their body will react with the battery and so time is very much of the essence.
It is sometimes difficult to know whether a child has swallowed a button battery. Great Ormond Street Hospital has provided helpful information about the signs you can look for:
- Vomiting fresh, bright red blood. If your child does that, you absolutely have to get them immediate medical help.
Other symptoms can include:
- Suddenly developing a cough, gag or drooling a lot
- Appearing to have a stomach upset or a virus
- Being sick
- Pointing to their throat or stomach
- Having a pain in their tummy, chest or throat
- Being tired or lethargic
- Being quieter or more clingy than usual or otherwise “not themselves”
- Losing their appetite or have a reduced appetite
- Not wanting to eat solid food/be unable to eat solid food.