Button batteries, especially big, powerful lithium coin cell batteries, can badly injure or kill a child if they are swallowed and get stuck in the throat or gullet.

Button batteries are small, round batteries that come in many different sizes and types. Lithium button batteries (often called ‘coin batteries’) are most dangerous as they are larger and more powerful. If they get stuck in a child’s throat, they can cause catastrophic internal bleeding and death within hours of being swallowed.

Typically, children get hold of ‘flat’ or spare button batteries that may have fallen onto the floor or down the sofa - or take batteries from everyday objects like kitchen scales, car key fobs or the slim audio visual remote controls.

So it’s important to keep spare or ‘dead’ button batteries and objects with easily accessible button batteries out of children’s reach, and to act fast if you think your child may have swallowed one.

Children most at risk are between 1 and 4 years, but younger and older children can also be at risk.

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 reacts with saliva to make the body create caustic soda. This is the same chemical used to unblock drains!

This can burn a hole through the throat and can lead to catastrophic internal bleeding and death. The reaction can happen in as little as two hours.

All batteries pose a risk to children but the size and power of button batteries and the size of the child matter. With a large, powerful lithium coin cell battery and a small child, the risks are greatest.

It’s not just fully charged button batteries that pose a risk. Modern devices need a lot of power. When power levels drop, we think the battery is flat and discard it. But it can still have enough electrical charge left to badly injure a child.

Spare batteries are culprits too. Some lithium button batteries are individually sealed in the packet and can only be removed with scissors. But with other packets, especially cheaper ones, once you open them, all the batteries come out. So spares end up being stored in open containers or even loose in a drawer.

Button batteries are also dangerous if they get stuck in a child’s nose or ear.

In this film, George Asan talks about his daughter Francesca, who died after swallowing a spare button battery.

How big is the risk?

At least two children a year have died as a result of swallowing button batteries in this country. We don’t know how many children are taken to A&E, admitted to hospital or suffer life-changing injuries. We are supporting doctors to find out.

In Australia, an estimated 4 children a week go to A&E with an injury related to a button battery.

No obvious symptoms

Unfortunately, it may not be obvious that a button battery is stuck in a child’s throat. There are no clear specific symptoms associated with this. The child may:

  • show signs of something stuck in the throat like coughing, gagging or drooling a lot
  • appear to have a stomach upset or a virus
  • point to their throat or tummy.

Other symptoms may include:

  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • pain
  • nausea

But these sorts of symptoms vary. 

One thing specific to button battery ingestion is vomiting fresh (bright red) blood.  If the child does this then seek immediate medical help. 

The lack of clear symptoms is why it is important to be vigilant with ‘flat’ or spare button batteries in the home and the products that contain them.


IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR CHILD HAS SWALLOWED A BUTTON BATTERY, ACT FAST

  • Take them straight to the A&E department at your local hospital or dial 999 for an ambulance.
  • Tell the doctor there that you think your child has swallowed a button battery.
  • If you have the battery packaging or the product powered by the battery, take it with you. This will help the doctor identify the type of battery and make treatment easier.
  • Do not let your child eat or drink.
  • Do not make them sick.
  • Trust your instincts and act fast – do not wait to see if any symptoms develop.

"It turns out this is one of the most damaging and dangerous things that my beautiful boy could have ever swallowed. They cause deep and extremely fast corrosion burns into soft human tissue. It does not get much worse than this.” 


Where can you find button batteries?

Button batteries are used in an increasingly 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:

  • robot bug or fish toys and ‘bug food’ or ‘fish food’ replacement batteries
  • fidget spinners with LED lights
  • slim remote controls
  • car key fobs
  • calculators
  • children’s thermometers
  • kitchen or bathroom scales
  • gaming headsets
  • musical cards
  • novelty items like singing Santas
  • watches
  • 3D glasses
  • hearing aids
  • flameless candles, nightlights and tea lights

Children’s toys

In the UK, batteries in children’s toys are covered by toy safety regulations. They should either be enclosed by a screw and a secure compartment, or need two independent or simultaneous movements to open the battery compartment. But remember that older children may still be able to open secure battery compartments.

But toys bought online or from markets, discount stores or temporary shops may not follow the appropriate safety regulations. For example, trading standards officers have issued warnings about light-up fidget spinners where the battery is easily accessible to children.

Who is at risk?

Children are most at risk from 1 to 4 years, but younger and older children can also be at risk. Babies and toddlers are at particular risk as they explore the world by putting things in their mouths. Toddlers are naturally inquisitive and can be determined to explore and get into things.

Older children can be fascinated by them too. In some cases, they may deliberately put one of these batteries in their mouth or on their tongue to experience the sensation of the electrical charge.

What situations have accidents already happened in?

Little exploring fingers have found button batteries when:

  • A product is dropped and the battery falls out.
  • A battery is ‘flat’ and has been taken out and left on a worktop or table.
  • A packet of batteries is opened and the batteries spill out under the sofa or a cupboard.
  • Spare batteries are stored in an easy-to-reach drawer in the lounge or kitchen.
  • The button battery compartment of a toy or other device isn’t secured.

How can I keep children safe?

  • Keep all spare batteries out of children’s reach and sight, ideally in a high-up, lockable cupboard.
  • Keep products with batteries well out of reach if the battery compartment isn’t secured with a screw.
  • Avoid toys from markets, discount stores or temporary shops as they may not conform to safety regulations and take care when buying online
  • 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.

How can I keep children safe?

  • Keep all spare batteries in a sealed container out of children’s reach and sight, ideally in a high-up, lockable cupboard.
  • Keep products with batteries well out of reach if the battery compartment isn’t secured.
  • Put ‘flat’ or ‘dead’ batteries out of reach straight away and recycle them safely.
  • Avoid toys from markets, discount stores or temporary shops as they may not conform to safety regulations, and take care when buying online or from overseas.
  • Teach older children that button batteries are dangerous and not to play with them or give them to younger brothers and sisters.

Please help us spread the word

  • Please share this page using the buttons below.
  • If you work with parents, our button battery safety pack, with a poster and 100 flyers, can help you spread the word.
  • If you feel passionate about keeping children safe, please make a donation to fund our future work.

More information

The website of the British and Irish Portable Battery Association (BIPBA) has advice on the risks for parents and medical professionals - http://buttonbatterysafety.com.