What to do if your child swallows a button battery

Parents must be aware of the dangers of button batteries
Parents must be aware of the dangers of button batteries

Button batteries and lithium coin batteries are the small, round, batteries you find in toys, cards, watches, key fobs, calculators, hearing aids and numerous other everyday objects.

They appear to be pretty harmless and you would think that if they were swallowed, that they would pass straight through and out the other end.

Sadly, this is not the case and hospitals are reporting an increase in life-changing injuries resulting from these innocuous looking culprits.

If the battery is swallowed and gets stuck at any point in its journey; then it continues to emit its charge and can burn through the tissues and cause lasting and often fatal injuries.

Lithium coin batteries are particularly dangerous and can burn through tissues and often blood vessels within hours.

Often parents are oblivious to the fact that their child has swallowed the battery and the first symptoms they are aware of, is their child vomiting blood. Sadly, this is often too late to save the child as irreparable damage has already occurred.

Sometimes button batteries do pass through the body without a problem.

However, if a button battery, particularly a lithium coin battery, gets stuck in someone’s oesophagus, energy from the battery creates corrosive caustic soda and it is this that burns through the tissues and causes horrendous damage and internal bleeding.

Lithium coin batteries have a higher voltage and therefore release more energy and are more corrosive; fatal damage can therefore occur in just a couple of hours.

If children find a button battery, they may not swallow it, they could just as easily pop it up their nose or stick it in their ear. This too can result in lasting damage.


Prevention and vigilance is key:

  • Always check that battery compartments are securely fastened.
  • If a battery is missing and you think it likely your child may have swallowed it, take your child to A&E for an x-ray to be sure.
  • If the battery compartment isn’t secured with a screw; ensure that they are well out of reach of children. Avoid buying products that do not conform to EU safety standards.
  • Store spare batteries carefully; out of children’s reach and sight and ideally in a high-up, lockable cupboard. They are potentially as dangerous as medicines and your cleaning products.
  • Inform your whole family about the dangers of button batteries.
  • Even used batteries can be dangerous, so recycle them safely.

If you think your child may have swallowed a button battery – Act fast!

  • Take them to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department quickly
  • Tell the triage nurse that you think they have swallowed a battery – if you remember take the gadget with you, so the staff can identify they type of battery you are worried about.
  • Do not wait for any signs or symptoms
  • Do not try to make them sick
  • Do not give them anything to eat or drink

You child will be X-rayed to establish, if the battery is there and where it is lodged.

If necessary, they will be taken for an operation to remove the battery as a matter of urgency.

First Aid for Life and onlinefirstaid.com provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

Written by Emma Hammett from First Aid for life   http://www.firstaidforlife.org.uk/

www.onlinefirstaid.com emma@firstaidforlife.org.uk  tel: 02086754036

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