Monday, December 12, 2011

You need to know about button batteries (again)

My blog stat tracker lets me see what people google to bring them to the blog (which can be fun to see).  Most of the time the phrases are mundane . . . "nieder family blog,"  "uncommon sense maya," etc.  Sometimes they are clear cut, like "how to make a word book"  or confusingly hilarious, like "bad mall Santa".

Sometimes they scare me . . . "I think my child swallowed a button battery".


It's time to re-run the post about button batteries.  The holidays are hear, filled with musical greeting cards, electronics, and toys---many of which have button batteries.  Also, we've had a bunch of readers join the blog since I first ran this piece (back in July).    I'm copying it below in its entirety.  Please share this post----or, if you'd like to share the original (without this prologue) you can find it here.   Make sure that everyone is aware of the danger that these batteries pose if they are ingested.

You need to know about button batteries

Please share this post.  Injuries and deaths from button batteries are serious, on the rise, and preventable.  Most people are completely unaware of the grave danger posed by a swallowed battery . . . until tragedy touched the life of a friend, I had no idea that batteries were so immediately hazardous.  Every parent, babysitter, grandparent, etc who cares for small children needs to be aware of the serious danger posed by lithium button batteries.

If you live with small children, you likely have taken safety precautions to make your home a safer place for them.  Knives are stored out of reach, hazardous household cleaners are secured, doors have locks and pools have fences.  But within your home right now, you have at least one item (but probably several of them) that can cause grave injury, or death, and you are possibly unaware of how rapidly fatal it is.

The Button Battery

These are button batteries (lithium batteries).  They are found in so many common items:
  • toys
  • books (the kind that make noises)
  • small remote controls (for air conditioners, ipod docks, etc)
  • watches
  • hearing aids
  • clocks
  • musical greeting cards
  • cameras
  • keychains
  • flashing shoes
  • and more (see a more complete list here.  Basically, if it's small and battery powered, there's a button battery in there.)
Parents already know that kids shouldn't play with batteries.  But these button batteries are even more dangerous than the traditional batteries simply because they are smaller and easy to swallow (or stick in an ear or nose).  And because they come in so many items, the saftety regulations are somewhat vague.  A button battery in a toddler book, for example, is highly regulated and must be secured in a compartment that requires a screwdriver to open.  Pretty safe.

But what about those singing greeting cards?

Kids love those cards . . . but the only thing between the child and the battery is a layer of paper. If they wander away with one and rip it apart, the battery is sitting right there.  (Some cards do have a battery lock, but many don't).

And small remotes? I know from experience (because I'm constantly dropping things) that many of these pop right open when they hit the floor, exposing the (shiny, interesting looking) battery inside.

The Danger
(This is the part where some people shudder and think: "I don't even want to know any more about battery dangers because now I'm going to be paranoid about batteries and have nightmares." You know what? Suck it up. The parents of the 12 kids who died due to button batteries since 2004 would probably give anything if they could reverse time and become more aware of the serious danger caused by them.)

Kids swallow these batteries.

And then very, very bad things happen. 

When a battery is swallowed, it generates a small electric current, which burns the tissue next to it.    (An experiment showed that a button battery will burn straight through deli meat after only 2 hours.)  In some cases, a swallowed battery is small enough that it can pass through the system (with careful medical monitoring).  In others, the battery becomes lodged (often in the esophagus).

As soon as the battery is lodged against tissue, the electrical current starts. Tissues are seriously damaged.  Resulting injuries have required surgeries, feeding tubes, respiratory tubes, and home nursing care.

And if the battery can burn through deli meat, imagine what happens if it reaches a blood vessel.
There are several possible routes of injury, and a few ways that a swallowed battery leads to death.  (More information about mechanisms of injury is here.)

The Bottom Line
Batteries are not (by far) the most commonly swallowed household item (they rank at about 1% of the total swallowed items, with 3,500 cases reported to poison control each year).  "But while swallowing batteries has occurred for years, the development of larger, stronger lithium cell batteries has increased the risk of severe complications." (from the NY Times)

Few other ingested items will cause potentially fatal damage so quickly.  And because parents often are not aware at just how serious battery ingestion is, these batteries may fall into the hands of children, and then get accidentally ingested, without their knowledge. 

What Parents Need to Know

1.  Button batteries can cause serious injury and death if swallowed.

2.  Button batteries are in your home and may be more easily accessible to your child than you think.

3.  If your child is playing with a product (key chain, small remote, greeting card, etc) that contains a button battery, they must be supervised.

4.  If a child is playing with an item and you are unsure if the battery has fallen out, or you can't find the battery (a remote broke into pieces that scattered, a musical card was torn up, etc) than you need an xray.  Head directly to the emergency room and tell them "My child may have swallowed a battery."  This is a do-not-sit-in-the-waiting-room type of situation. 

5. If you suspect that a battery may have been swallowed, you should call the battery ingestion hotline: 202-625-3333.  Likely they will tell you the above.  They will also likely tell you that panic is not necessary, but swift action is.

6. Even dead batteries can hold enough charge to kill a child.  So dispose of dead batteries appropriately and immediately.

One More Thing

Share this blog post.  Or share one of the articles linked below.  Or share the National Capital Poison Center page.  Put it on Facebook, print out a copy to give a friend, send an email to the caretakers of young kids that you know.  When a parent has bleach in the house, they know the dangers to children.  The dangers of button batteries should be known by everyone so that the proper precautions can be taken.  We can't be careful of something that we don't know about.

(And if your friends react with "Oh my!  Why did you send me that terrible thing about the batteries?  I can't stop thinking about batteries now!"   . . .  well, then good.  Better to leave someone aware and slightly paranoid than ignorant to the dangers.)


National Capital Poison Center

A NY Times article about babies and button batteries

A comprehensive article that speaks with a doctor who published a review of button battery data from 1998-2008. 

A video from ABC news that shows the batteries and hears from experts.

One mom's story: My son died after swallowing a button battery


GP said...

Thank you for posting this!

Just the Tip said...

Normal batteries scare me, but I never thought about this. I know we don't have anything (except the scale) that uses them, that i'm aware of at the moment. I will be SURE to tell my gramma about it tomorrow, she lets Peyton play with a lot of cards.
Thank you for posting this!

Bea, OT said...

Wow! Thank you for posting this!

Colette said...

Thanks Dana for the info. My 8 year old wear hearing aids but our 5 year old has Aspergers and is constantly putting things in his mouth that don't belong there. Although we are vigilant I always fear that this can happen. We will be ever more so now that we know how much more serious these little batteries can be.

Lakendra Wiltse said...

This is an eye-opening post about batteries. Batteries are dangerous when swallowed because they contain harmful chemicals that can prove poisonous if absorbed by the body. When buying battery operated toys, a parent must inspect the quality first. It must have a battery house that is secured by casing screws. That way, kids can’t open it.

Anonymous said...

Im gong to the ER right now, my son just swallowed a watch battery. Im am so scared. But that you for posting this!

Dana said...


I hope that everything turned out ok, and I'm thinking of your family. If you end up spinning back this way, please send me a message via my Facebook page or at and send an update.