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Button Battery Injuries in Children

​​​​More than 2,800 children are treated in emergency rooms each year after ingesting button batteries. Small, shiny and appealing to children, a button battery can cause major injury and even death when swallowed or lodged in a child nose or ear.

What are button batteries?

Button batteries, sometimes called coin cell batteries, are the small round batteries found in small electronics, such as:

  • Remote controls

  • Thermometers

  • Games and toys

  • Hearing aids

  • Calculators

  • Bathroom scales

  • Key fobs

  • Watches and electronic jewelry

  • Flashing shoes & clothing

  • Cameras

  • Holiday ornaments

  • Flameless candles

  • Musical greeting cards

​​Button Batteries

As more homes use these small electronics, the risk of these batteries getting into the hands of curious and crawling infants and young children increases.​

How do button batteries injure children?

When it comes into contact with body fluids, the battery generates a current that produces small amounts of sodium hydroxide, which is lye. If the battery gets stuck somewhere in the body, the lye burns a hole at that spot. Infection usually follows. The result can be serious injury and illness, long-term disability, or even death.

What should parents do?

Parents and caregivers should not assume that every battery-powered product that enters their home is safe for use by children. In many products, for example, the battery is easily accessible or can fall out when the product is dropped. Make sure that the battery compartments of all electronic items are secure and taped shut. 

When replacing a button battery, keep in mind that it stops powering a device way before it runs out of a charge. So, what we think of as a “dead" battery still has the charge to harm a child should it get caught in their ear, nose, and throat or swallowing passage. The higher the voltage of the battery (3V vs. 1.5V), the faster the injury. To safely dispose of button batteries, wrap them in tape and promptly recycle or put them in an outside garbage can.

​​Symptoms​

​When a child ingests a button battery, symptoms could be virtually absent or similar to those of a common infection. This can makes it challenging for health care professionals who are evaluating the child.​

Button Battery 2 hours
  • When a button battery is placed in the nose or ear, there may be noticeable drainage or pain. Since these symptoms are not unique to button battery injuries, and caregivers may not see the child get ahold of the battery, there can be delayed diagnosis and even greater injury. Batteries lodged in the nose or ear can cause extensive damage to structures such as the eardrum and nasal septum. The lye burns can lead to infections and, in some cases, permanent breathing, smell and hearing disability.

  • When lodged in the esophagus, the lye produced by the electric current rapidly produces burns at that site. The esophagus and nearby structures in the chest can be damaged, including the windpipe, lungs and large blood vessels. Serious infections usually follow, and bleeding caused by blood vessel damage can create an immediate, life-threatening emergency. Survivors may have lifelong disability.

Figure 1 (left): Figure 1 (left): Endoscopic view of button battery injury to nasal septum in right nasal cavity of a child.​

Figure 2 (right): Rigid esophagoscopy showing button battery injury extending into the muscular layer of esophagus in a child.​​

If You su​spect yo​ur child has ingested a button battery

If you have honey at home: Give 2 teaspoons of honey to a child who has ingested a button battery within the past 12 hours, as long as they are over age 12 months and can swallow liquids. You can give up to 6 doses of honey about 10 minutes apart. Do NOT give your child anything else to eat or drink. If your child vomits, do NOT offer another dose.  Do NOT delay transport to hospital to obtain honey

Take you​​r child immed​iately to an emergency room!

​Diagnosis & treatment

Once an x-ray confirms that a button battery is stuck within the body​, treatment is urgent removal. The goal is to limit damage to surrounding tissue, and to treat injury that has occurred. A child who has ingested a button battery also needs follow-up care to identify long-term and delayed complications.

Awareness is key to prevention

Parents and caregivers need to be aware of the risk posed by button batteries in their home. Keep loose and spare batteries locked away, store any product that uses button batteries out of reach of curious children, and know what to do if they do manage to ingest one. Talk with you pediatrician if you have any questions about your child's safety.

More information

Last Updated
12/21/2020
Source
American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention and Section on Otolaryngology, Head & Necks Surgery (Copyright © 2020)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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