These small round batteries, commonly found around the house in toys and household items such as remote controls and car fobs, can cause serious harm and death in children when swallowed.
The danger with button batteries begins as soon as the battery comes into contact with a wet surface, such as in the oesophagus (food pipe), nose or ear. It starts to discharge its ‘current’ and begins a chemical reaction, causing significant damage to the surrounding tissue. Within a couple of hours, serious internal burns can occur in the upper chest region, leading to long term problems with breathing and swallowing. The damage can be so significant it can cause death.
Button battery investigation
We’ve issued this warning after commencing an investigation into the death of a child who swallowed a button battery earlier this year. Whilst not complete, the evidence that the investigation team has gathered has been compelling enough to issue this safety message in time for Christmas.
Small children are at higher risk to the dangers of these batteries due to their tendency to put things in their mouths. People should be particularly vigilant to button batteries with a diameter of 20mm or more, as they are more likely to get stuck in the throat.
We encourage parents to watch this short YouTube video from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) and share it on social media with the hashtag #BeBatteryAware to raise awareness of this important danger. More information on button batteries and their dangers can also be found on the Child Accident Prevention Trust website.
Dr Kevin Stewart, Medical Director for the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) said: “These batteries pose a very real risk to small children and babies, and the consequences of swallowing a button battery can be truly devastating. This is why we are calling on families this festive period to be extra vigilant and to put in place some basic precautions around their house. It’s important that everybody knows that these batteries can be found everywhere, from toys to gadgets such as remote controls, digital scales and car fobs. The best way to protect children is to place everything securely out of reach and double check that all toys have screws to secure any batteries.”
Dr Rachel Rowlands, from the Leicester Royal Infirmary, said: “I would urge everyone this Christmas to be aware of the dangers button batteries can cause if swallowed or put into the nose or ear. Parents or carers should bring their child to the nearest emergency department immediately if they think a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery. These batteries can cause fatal injuries even if they don’t have enough charge to power a device, so once you remove them, dispose of them appropriately.”
Katrina Phillips, Chief Executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, said: “Festive tea lights, singing Santas and flashing Christmas wands are all powered by lithium coin cell batteries, many of them easily accessible to curious little fingers. We’re concerned that small children put everything in their mouths, with potentially lethal consequences.
“We’re encouraging families to keep potentially dangerous products out of reach of babies, toddlers and small children, and to be equally careful about where they store spare and used batteries. Even an apparently ‘flat’ battery has enough power to cause serious harm if it gets stuck.”
Kate Cross, Consultant Neonatal and Paediatric Surgeon at GOSH said: “Button batteries are found in lots of domestic items that we all use every day and it’s easy to forget how powerful they are and how dangerous they can be. We can all help keep our families safer by storing batteries in secure places before and after they’re used, preventing more children and families having to go through the traumatic experience of these serious injuries.”
Tips for protecting children
- Batteries are everywhere: check household gadgets such as remote controls (TV, audio) and digital scales are safely out of reach of children and consider other items that might also have batteries (greeting cards, flameless candles, key fobs) which may not have the back secured with a screw
- Where a toy has batteries check that they are secured with a screw
- Think about where you store spare batteries and keep them in a high, lockable cupboard
- Teach children that button batteries are dangerous
- Remember that even used batteries can be dangerous, never leave them on the side, put them out of children’s reach straight away and recycle them safely
- Check for discarded or old remote controls or fobs around the house which may contain old batteries
- New toys often come with batteries included in the packaging - don’t lose them in the chaos of present unwrapping.
Our final report on button batteries is expected in Spring 2019. You can contact us to receive updates on this and our other investigations.