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Dangerous Button Batteries

We are used to our kids putting harmless things in their mouths every day, but there are hidden dangers hiding in your key fob, remote controls, and flame-less candles: button batteries. Jaime Verberne, Child Safety Expert at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, took some time to answer our questions and to share just how dangerous button or coin sized batteries can be if your child swallows them.

Why are button batteries so dangerous and what can actually happen if a child swallows one?

Unfortunately, button sized batteries are in most common products in our houses, like key fobs, flame-less candles, a lot of remote controls, toys even have them. And unfortunately some of these devices are easily able to be broken into by kids because kids love to explore, or they might drop a remote, and then the button sized battery is able to be picked up– and of course kids like to put everything in their mouths– and they can swallow them. The issue with these lithium batteries is that, if swallowed, they can get stuck in the esophagus and they can burn through the esophagus or the throat. The child’s saliva actually triggers an electrical current and that causes a chemical reaction, which then causes the burn. So if these batteries do get lodged in the esophagus or even in the stomach, they can cause severe injuries and have even caused fatalities.

How common is it that kids come into the ER after swallowing a button battery?

Each year more than 2800 kids are treated in the ERs because of this, which equates to 1 child every three hours in the U.S. I think what is interesting though is that as remotes and key fobs are becoming smaller and more sleek, these types of batteries are more commonly used now in more products. So they really are found in different items– even hearing aids. We want grandparents to be aware of this issue to because a lot of people will take their hearing aid out and place it on a table and the children can easily get into that and find the battery.

What should a parent do if they think a child has swallowed a battery? Should they try to induce vomiting or try to give their child water?

We do not want to induce vomiting and nothing should be given as a drink, as well as nothing to be eaten. What they should do is to contact the national battery ingestion hotline at 202-625-3333, and then they need to get to the ER right away. If this battery is suspected to have been ingested, a family really has about 2 hours for a doctor to go in and do x-rays and a surgery might be needed. So that timing is crucial. Again, we really want to stress the importance of not inducing vomiting and not giving the child anything to eat or drink.

Are there any symptoms to look for if you’re not sure if it was a battery?

Some of the symptoms that have been reported are actually flu-like symptoms, upset stomach, nausea, wheezing. So if there is a child who you think might be choking on something but you’re not exactly sure what it is, we want parents to assume that it could possibly be one of these lithium button batteries because it is that timing that is really important. We want them to get to the ER quickly so that the doctor can do those x-rays and figure out what is causing the issue.

Is it also dangerous for a child to put a battery in their nose or ears?

Yes, similar burns have been found with children placing them in the nose and ears.

Do you have any suggestions for how parents can keep kids from swallowing batteries since they are all over the house?

Awareness is key, so make sure that parents understand the dangers and that caregivers, family members, and babysitters understand this issue is important. Try to keep these items away from the children– a lot of parents will give children remote controls to play with because the children like to play with the buttons and everything– but in many of these remotes, children are able to get into them pretty easily. Trying to keep them away is really important. If there is an item that is out often and a parent feels that a child could get into it easily, we recommend getting duct tape or something like that to wrap around the compartment to keep that battery sealed.

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Krista is the editorial assistant for Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine and has been a contributing writer for several Bay Area publications. She has been with Tampa Bay Parenting since June 2014 and is excited to bring her experience as a writer to the best family publication in the Bay. She strives to tell accurate and compelling stories to help families make informed decisions. 

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