Keeping children safe from button batteries
Button batteries and lithium coin batteries are the small, round batteries you find in lots of toys and everyday objects. They can be extremely dangerous for children if swallowed – especially lithium coin batteries –and can kill within hours.
Why are button batteries dangerous?
Most button batteries pass through the body without a problem. But if a button battery, particularly a lithium coin battery, gets stuck in the throat or gullet, energy from the battery can make the body create caustic soda (the chemical used to unblock drains!).
This can burn a hole through the throat and lead to serious internal bleeding and death.
Lithium coin batteries are the most dangerous as the higher voltage means more energy is released, creating more caustic soda. The reaction can happen is as little as two hours.
One mum said: "It turns out this is one of the most damaging and dangerous things that my beautiful boy could have ever ingested. They cause deep and extremely fast corrosion burns into soft human tissue. It does not get much worse than this.”
All button batteries are very dangerous if they get stuck in a child’s nose or ear.
Where can you find button batteries?
Button batteries are used in a wide range of toys, gadgets and other everyday objects you’ll find around the house. Lots of these objects have buttons and surfaces that young children love to explore and play with. Many are brightly coloured or otherwise appealing to children. These include:
- small remote controls
- car key fobs
- hearing aids
- digital scales
- musical cards
- novelty toys
- flameless candles and nightlights.
Who is at risk?
This video from BBC Newcastle - Radio for the North East shows two-year-old Amari Leonard from South Tyneside who was in hospital for almost a week after swallowing a lithium battery (opens in Facebook).
It’s not just babies and toddlers, who put everything in their mouths, who are at risk from button batteries. Older children can be fascinated by them too.
In some cases, they may deliberately put a button battery in their mouth or on their tongue to experience the sensation of the electrical charge.
Batteries in children’s toys are covered by safety regulations and should be enclosed by a screw and secure. Toys from markets or temporary shops may not follow safety regulations. Remember that older children may be able to open secure battery compartments.
How can I keep children safe?
- Keep products with batteries well out of reach if the battery compartment isn’t secured with a screw.
- Keep all spare batteries out of children’s reach and sight, ideally in a high-up, lockable cupboard.
- Avoid toys from markets or temporary shops as they may not conform to safety regulations.
- Teach older children that button batteries are dangerous and not to play with them or give them to younger brothers and sisters.
- Remember that even used batteries can be dangerous, so recycle them safely.
If an accident happens
Unfortunately it may not be obvious that a battery is stuck in a child’s throat. They may be breathing normally, or simply develop cold or flu-like symptoms.
Please help us spread the word
- Far too many children die or are badly hurt in accidents that can be prevented. With your help, we can alert families to the dangers and protect children from serious harm. If you’ve found this advice helpful, please make a donation.
- Help us tell parents about the dangers of button batteries by sharing this information, putting up a poster or handing out flyers. Our button battery safety pack contains a poster and 100 copies of the flyer.
The website of the European Portable Battery Association has advice on the risks for parents and medical professionals - http://buttonbatterysafety.com/.
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