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 food pipe.

Button batteries are small, round batteries that come in many different sizes and types. Lithium button batteries (often called ‘coin batteries’ or ‘coin cell batteries’) are the most powerful. They power many of our devices at home to make our life more convenient.

If a lithium coin cell battery gets stuck in a child’s food pipe, it can cause catastrophic internal bleeding and death within hours of being swallowed.

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

Why are button batteries dangerous?

Most button batteries pass through the body without a problem. But if a button battery - particularly a lithium coin cell battery - gets stuck in the food pipe, 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 food pipe and can lead to catastrophic internal bleeding and death. The reaction can happen in as little as two hours.

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

The size and power of the button battery and the size of the child matter. With a large, powerful lithium coin cell battery – for example a 3V CR2025, CR2032 or CR2330 – and a small child, the risks are greatest.

"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.” 

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.

How big is the risk?

At least two children a year have died as a result of swallowing lithium coin cell 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.

More information

Find out more about where you find button batteries and what to do in an emergency if you suspect your child has swallowed one.