Swallowing any button battery, old or new, can cause life threatening injuries and even death, especially if it becomes stuck in the oesophagus (food pipe). Batteries which become stuck in the nose or ears can also cause local burns.
When swallowed, the left over electrical current in a button battery reacts with moisture to produce a strong alkali chemical. The chemical can cause serious internal burns and bleeding. The batteries can also leak chemicals which can cause serious burns. The coin shaped batteries are easily caught in the oesophagus, and when stuck can start to cause damage very quickly (within 2 hours).
What is a button battery?
A button battery is a small single cell flat battery, shaped like a button. Button batteries can vary in size, from 0.5cm to 2.5cm in width. Sometimes they are called ‘coin’ or lithium batteries.
All button batteries are dangerous but the most common size to cause severe damage is the ‘coin’ battery. A ‘coin’ battery is the size of a 10 cent piece (2cm wide).
First aid for swallowed button batteries
If you know or just suspect that your child has swallowed a button battery you must act immediately.
What are the symptoms of a child who has swallowed a button battery?
Children often swallow button batteries without anyone knowing. Symptoms can include chest pain, coughing, choking, vomiting, drooling, decreased appetite or refusal to eat, fever, abdominal pain and general discomfort. Spitting blood or blood-stained saliva or having very dark stained or black bowel motions, can indicate bleeding or ulceration somewhere in the upper or lower digestive system.
How is a swallowed button battery diagnosed?
Your child may need to have an x-ray of the appropriate area to locate the battery.
Is there a Law or an Australian Standard for button batteries?
The law, Fair Trading Amendment (Children’s Toys) Regulation 2010, states that all toys for children 36 months and under in Australia must comply with the Australian Standard (AS/NZS ISO 8124.1:2002). The standard states that toys for children 3 years and younger must have any batteries secured in a compartment by a screw or must need a couple of distinct movements to open the battery compartment.
Other devices and toys for children over 3 years of age up to adults, such as thermometers or remote controls do not need special battery enclosures.
Please seek immediate medical attention at the hospital emergency department, if you believe your child may have swallowed a button battery or inserted it in their nose or ear.