Lithium “Button” Batteries
There is an emerging danger hiding in your home — lithium batteries, also known as button batteries — causing injuries and death in children. When swallowed, these small batteries get stuck in the esophagus (throat). The saliva triggers an electric current which causes a chemical reaction that can severely burn the esophagus in as little as two hours, creating an esophageal perforation, vocal cord paralysis, or even erosion into the airway (trachea), or major blood vessels.
Lithium batteries can be found in everything in your home. They are used in remote controls, toys, musical greeting cards, calculators, watches and other electronics. Small children often have easy access to these devices, and many parents do not know there is a risk.
Incidents of ingesting button batteries are on the rise
- Button batteries are ingested more than 3,500 times per year in the United States.
- Each year there are multiple severe cases involving esophageal or airway damage and a number of deaths
What are the signs that my child has swallowed a button battery?
Signs that your child has swallowed a button battery may include:
- A sudden onset of crying (some children may not be in pain)
- Noisy breathing
- Decreased or refusing to eat or drink
- Difficulty swallowing
- Gagging, coughing or choking with eating or drinking
- Sore throat
- Hoarse voice
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Abdominal pain
- Blood or blood-tinged saliva, vomit, or stool
The above symptoms can also be mistaken for another diagnosis. Parents or caretakers should know that these batteries can be found anywhere in the home and think of it as a possibility if a child is in distress.
Watch this video to learn more about the dangers of ingesting a button battery and what to do if you think your child has swallowed a battery.
What should I do if I think my child has swallowed a battery?
This is an emergency! Take your child to an Emergency Department immediately.
If your child is >12 months old (1 year old), can give honey, 10ML or 2 teaspoons, every 10 minutes while you are on your way to the Emergency Department.
If your child is <12 months old, do not give your child anything to eat or drink.
If you are unsure, call Poison Control immediately: 1-800-222-1222
Is there anything I should not do if I think my child has swallowed a battery?
- Do not induce vomiting.
- Do not give medications to make your child move his bowels or vomit.
- Do not give your child anything to eat or drink except honey if they are >12 months old and there is going to be delay getting to a children’s emergency room (ie:Long distance)
- Give 2 teaspoons of honey every 10 min for one hour
- Get to the nearest Children’s Center emergency room ASAP
- If your child is <12 months old, do not give them anything by mouth: nothing to drink, nothing to eat.
- Do not give milk or water; this will not prevent further injury.
- Do not attempt the Heimlich maneuver, even if you saw your child swallow the battery. The battery could get stuck another area or change its location and increase the risk of injury.
How to protect your child from the dangers of button batteries
Keep your child safe by:
- Knowing where the batteries are in the home.
- Ensure lids of devices that have button batteries are closed tightly, either using screws provided with the device or duct tape.
- Securing them out of reach of children in a secured container.
- If throwing out a button battery, place tape on both sides of the used battery and storing it in a secured bag till you are able to recycle them.
- Telling everyone you know about the risk.
- If you think your child swallowed a battery, seek medical attention immediately!
- Have the Poison Center phone number readily available in your phone and/or posted in your home.
- Dr. Ian Jacobs Discusses the Hidden Dangers of Button Batteries
- Swallowing Lithium (Button) Batteries is Dangerous!
- National Capital Poison Center Button Battery Ingestion Triage and Treatment Guideline: National Capital Poison Center Button Battery Ingestion Triage and Treatment Guideline
- Sethia R, Gibbs H, Jacobs IN, Reilly JS, Rhoades K, Jatana, KR. “Current management of button battery injuries” Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, online April 15, 2021
- Anfang RR, Jatana KR, Linn RL, Rhoades K, Fry J, Jacobs IN. “pH-neutralizing esophageal irrigations as a novel mitigation strategy for button battery injury,” The Laryngoscope, online June 11, 2018.
- What Parents Need to Know about Button Batteries and Lithium Coin Batteries - HealthyChildren.org
- Jatana KR, Chao S, Jacobs IN, Litovitz T. “Button battery safety: Industry and academic partnerships to drive change.” Otolaryngol Clin North Am. online October 8, 2018 Button Battery Safety: Industry and Academic Partnerships to Drive Change - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Safe Kids Worldwide has partnered with Energizer to raise awareness about button batteries
- Button Battery Ingestions: How Dangerous Is it in Kids? - Commentary by Dr. Ian Jacobs from the Center for Pediatric Airway Disorders at CHOP
Medscape News Today, Nov. 28, 2011