With families spending more time at home, it's important to protect children from the hidden hazards of button batteries and lithium coin batteries. Small and useful, but potentially dangerous if children get ahold them, button batteries and lithium coin batteries are found in remotes, key fobs, thermometers, and many other devices found throughout the home.
Emergency room visits related to button batteries and lithium coin batteries
nearly doubled during the first several months of COVID-19 pandemic, as families began spending more time at home . If swallowed, a button battery or lithium coin battery can cause serious injury that can be life-threatening.
Knowing what devices use these batteries, how to keep them out of reach of children, and acting quickly if your child swallows a small battery is a key part of household safety.
What is the difference between button batteries and lithium coin batteries?
Button cell batteries and lithium coin cell batteries are both circular-shaped, metallic, and small enough to swallow. They are used to power many household items.
Button cell batteries look like small buttons. They often are used in hearing aids and watches. They can cause injury if swallowed or placed in the nose or ear and do require urgent medical attention. Even if not swallowed, button batteries lodged in the nose or ear can also cause damage to the eardrum or nasal septum. This can lead to infections and impact breathing, smell and the ability to hear.
Lithium coin cell batteries are thinner than button batteries and have a higher voltage. They are used to power devices like scales, key fobs and flameless candles. Lithium coin batteries with a 20mm diameter, similar in size to a nickel, are the most dangerous small batteries for young children because they are about the size of a child's esophagus. The esophagus is a tube that connects the throat (pharynx) to the stomach.
If a lithium coin battery gets stuck in a child's esophagus, acting quickly is important. Seek medical attention right away. These batteries can cause a chemical reaction that damages or burns through the esophagus within 2 hours. These types of injuries can quickly become life-threatening.
Where button batteries and lithium coin batteries are found
Button batteries can be found in many places around your home. (See, "Lithium Coin Batteries: A Home Safety Walkthrough.") Here are some common items that may contain button batteries:
How to keep children safe from button batteries
Crawling infants, toddlers and young children often put things in their mouths. Because of this, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of accidents.
Look for batteries in child-resistant packaging. There is also one type of lithium coin battery with a bitter coating to discourage swallowing.
Make sure battery compartments are secure, especially for commonly used items like remote controls and key fobs. Consider taping them shut for an additional layer of security.
Know what items in your home contain button batteries and lithium coin batteries, including older siblings' toys, calculators and games.
Store items that use these batteries out of reach, and out of sight if possible. For example, keep thermometers or remote controls in a secure drawer or cabinet when not in use. Hang keys up high on hooks. If someone receives a musical card, make sure to throw the card out when done or remove the battery before allowing children to keep it in their room. Remind older siblings to keep their stuff off the floor.
Make sure childcare providers and family members are aware of the safety concerns. Post the number for the National Battery Ingestion Hotline (800-498-8666) with other emergency information in your home.
Throw out or recycle old batteries right away. Even batteries that are "dead" can be dangerous. To safely dispose of button batteries and lithium coin batteries, wrap them in tape and place them in an outside garbage can.
Talk with your children about safety. We teach kids to hold hands and look both ways when crossing a street and that a stove is hot. In the same way, we can teach them that handling batteries is for grown-ups. Talk to older children as well to make sure they keep track of items responsibly.
What to do if your child may have ingested a button battery
If you suspect a child has ingested a button battery, it is important to act quickly:
Take your child to the emergency room or call 911. Let doctors and nurses know it might be a lithium coin battery. Typically, an x-ray is taken to see if the battery is lodged in the esophagus. If the battery has moved into the stomach, it can likely be passed on its own. When it is stuck in the esophagus, that is when chemical reactions can occur.
Then, offer honey if it's on hand. After calling 911 and while you wait for emergency care, you can give your child 2 teaspoons of honey 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. It is important not to give your child anything else to eat or drink. If they vomit, do not give another dose of honey. Do not induce vomiting. Do not delay emergency care to look for honey.
Watch for fever and other symptoms after going home. After you return home, if your child develops a fever or shows signs of abdominal pain, vomiting or blood in the stools, contact your doctor.
If the battery is passing on its own, check your child's stools until the battery has passed.
If you have questions about how to create a safe home environment, don't hesitate to talk with your pediatrician.