Button batteries

If swallowed, a button battery can become stuck in a child’s throat and result in catastrophic injuries and even death. Insertion of button batteries into body orifices such as ears and noses can also lead to significant injuries. Keep products with button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children at all times.

About button batteries

Button batteries are found in a broad range of consumer and household products including remote controls, watches, computers, cameras, calculators, torches, flameless candles, fitness devices, digital kitchen and bathroom scales, toys, games, novelty items, musical greeting cards, and home medical devices.

Risks and injuries

In Australia, two children — four-year-old Summer Alice Steer and 14-month-old Isabella Estelle Rees — have tragically died from injuries caused by swallowing a button battery. Many thousands of children have presented at hospital emergency departments following exposure to button batteries.

Button batteries pose a severe injury risk, particularly in children aged 0–5 years. Young children are at the greatest risk due to their narrower oesophagus and tendency to place small objects into their mouths, ears and noses.

The safety risk to children from button batteries arises when they can get access to the batteries. Children can access button batteries in a variety of ways, including:

  • products with battery compartments that are not secure
  • packaging that is not child resistant
  • poor quality products being dropped or broken
  • spare batteries being provided loose in product packaging
  • spare batteries not being kept out of reach around the home.

If swallowed, coin-sized button batteries can lodge in a child’s oesophagus. An electrical current is immediately triggered by saliva, which causes a chemical reaction that can cause severe burns to the child’s oesophagus and internal organs such as vital arteries, lungs, heart, larynx and spine. After only two hours, this can result in serious injury or death.

Once burning begins, damage can continue even after the battery is removed from the body. Repairing the damage can be painful and may require multiple surgeries. This can result in ongoing treatment and follow-up plans for injuries sustained from button battery ingestion.

A range of symptoms that may occur after swallowing a button battery include:

  • gagging or choking
  • drooling
  • chest pain (this may present as grunting)
  • coughing or noisy breathing
  • unexplained vomiting or food refusal
  • bleeding from the gut — black or red vomit or bowel motions
  • nose bleeds — sometimes this can be blood vomited through the nose
  • unexplained fever
  • abdominal pain
  • general discomfort
  • spitting blood or blood-stained saliva.

Some of these symptoms are similar to other conditions and may not appear for some time, so it may not be suspected that the child has even swallowed a battery.

Buying tips

If buying a toy, household device or novelty item, look for products that do not use button batteries. If you do buy button-battery-operated products, look for ones with a secure battery compartment where the button batteries are not accessible without the use of a tool (such as a screwdriver or spanner). This will make it much more difficult for a young child to access the battery.

Safe use

  • Keep button batteries and products with button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children at all times.
  • Examine products and make sure a child cannot gain access to the batteries inside.
  • Dispose of used button batteries immediately. Old or spent batteries can still be dangerous to young children.
  • Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.

Suspected ingestions

  • If your child is having any difficulty breathing, call 000 immediately.
  • Contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 and you will be directed to the nearest hospital or emergency service that can manage the injury.
  • Prompt action is critical. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
  • Do not let the child eat or drink until an X-ray is taken showing the battery is beyond the oesophagus. Do not induce vomiting.