Every week, around 20 Australian children present to an emergency department following exposure to button batteries, including ingestions and insertions. Keep products with button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children.
Button batteries are found in many common household products, such as remote control car keys, TV remote controls, calculators, kitchen and bathroom scales and greeting cards.
Button batteries are a little known but severe injury risk for children. Every week, around 20 Australian children present to an emergency department following exposure to button batteries, including ingestions and insertions. Incidents are most common among very young children and toddlers, with the majority of cases involving children younger than six years.
If swallowed, coin-sized button batteries can lodge in a child’s gastrointestinal system. 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 the lungs, heart, arteries and spine. This can take only a few hours, resulting in serious injury or death. These injuries can occur even if the battery that is swallowed is flat.
Once burning begins, damage can continue even after the battery is removed and repairing the damage can be painful and may require multiple surgeries.
Symptoms that may occur after swallowing a button battery include:
- gagging or choking
- chest pain (this may present as grunting)
- coughing or noisy breathing
- unexplained vomiting or food refusal
- bleeding from the gut: black or red vomits or bowel motions
- nose bleeds – sometimes this can be blood vomited through the nose
- unexplained fever.
These symptoms are similar to many other conditions and may not appear for some time, so it may not be suspected that the child has swallowed a battery.
If buying a household device or novelty, look for products that do not run on button batteries. If you do buy button battery operated products look for ones where the battery compartment requires a tool or dual simultaneous movement to open. This will make it difficult for a young child to access the battery.
- Keep products with button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children.
- Examine devices and make sure a child cannot gain access to the batteries inside.
- Dispose of used button batteries immediately. Flat batteries can still be dangerous.
- If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 1126 and you will be directed to the nearest hospital or emergency service that can manage the injury.
- Do not let the child eat or drink and do not induce vomiting.
- Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.