A person holding a button battery on a fingertip.

The dangers of children and button batteries.

It has to be a danger of our times. Certainly my parents wouldn’t have been worried about us swallowing button batteries. More likely to be pieces of Lego, small beads or other such relatively innocent Sixties child stuff.

One of the BBC’s lead stories today was that surgeons are warning of the potentially deadly risk posed to young children by button batteries. If accidentally swallowed, the small, round batteries can get lodged in the oesophagus and burn a hole through its lining.

When a child swallows a button battery, the saliva triggers an electrical current. This causes a chemical reaction that can severely burn the oesophagus in as little as two hours.

The scary part is that it may not be obvious at first that there is something wrong, since kids can still breathe and act normally after ingesting a battery, though it may seem like your child has a cold or flu.

Repairing the damage from battery ingestion is painful and often involves multiple surgeries. Even after a battery is removed, kids can experience terrible side effects to their vocal chords and windpipe.

Says surgeon Kate Cross at Great Ormond Street Hospital:

“Button batteries should be treated like poison and kept out of reach of children.”

Sadly a 3 year old girl in Northern Ireland was left with permanent damage to her throat after a battery got stuck in her food pipe. She started being sick and refusing food and it was not until five days later that an X-ray showed she had swallowed a battery, by which time it had burned a hole through her oesophagus and windpipe.

The little girl had to have dozens of surgical procedures, including having part of her oesophagus removed and spent nine months at Great Ormond Street Hospital receiving specialist treatment.

Her mother Jelena said: “Because she now can’t eat or drink properly, the doctors have made a hole in her neck and attached a bag so that all her saliva and anything she drinks goes straight in to it.

Keep Button Batteries Out of Reach

  • Search your home, and any place your child goes, for gadgets that may contain coin-sized lithium batteries.
  • Keep coin lithium battery-controlled devices out of sight and reach of children. These include remote controls, singing greeting cards, digital scales, watches, hearing aids, thermometers, children’s toys, calculators, key fobs, flameless or tea light candles, flashing holiday jewellery or decorations all contain button batteries.
  • Keep loose batteries locked away, or place a piece of duct tape over the controller to secure the battery compartment.

Get Treatment Right Away

  • If you suspect your child has ingested a battery, go to the hospital immediately. Don’t induce vomiting or have your child eat or drink anything until assessed by a medical professional.
  • The symptoms may be tricky to recognise (they include coughing, drooling and discomfort), so if you have even the smallest doubt, don’t take any chances.
  • Go to  Accident and Emergency right away.


The dangers of button batteries are taught on Safe and Sound First Aid Courses. For more information about both paediatric and adult first aid courses go to: www.safeandsound.uk.net