Health Warnings

Button Batteries – What you NEED to Know to Reduce the Risk and Safeguard Your Kids

Button batteries are everywhere. And they’re seriously lethal. Here’s what you need to know about these tiny little killers and how they could impact your kids!

As a parent, you do everything humanly possible to keep your kids safe. You check and double-check seatbelts. Put a lock on every cupboard door. Secure your TV to the wall, erect barriers and gates, and fork out a small fortune for every baby-proofing safety gadget on the market. It’s easy to guard against the big things that pose a risk to your kids’ safety. But what can you do when one of the greatest threats is also the smallest in size and most inconspicuous? Button batteries are everywhere – lurking in their toys, devices and any number of household objects within their reach.

Here’s why they’re so deadly and what you can do to reduce the risks they pose to your kids…

Button batteries and where you’ll find them

Button batteries are also known as coin lithium batteries. They’re usually disc-shaped, ranging in size from 5mm to 25mm in diameter and 1mm to 6mm high. They’re popular with manufacturers because they’re cheap, compact and can be used to reliably power a multitude of small electronic devices.

You’ll find button batteries in devices in every corner of your home including:

  • watches
  • remote controls
  • calculators
  • musical greeting cards
  • Christmas decorations
  • flameless candles
  • toys
  • games
  • devices
  • flashing jewellery
  • bathroom and kitchen scales
  • hearing aids

The fact they’re so compact and produce a reliable charge is also the reason they’re so deadly to kids under the age of 5. That’s because infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers have a propensity to put things in their mouths as part of their natural drive to explore the world around them.

How common are button battery injuries? 

In Australia, it’s estimated that up to 20 children a week present to emergency departments as a result of having swallowed, or being suspected of having swallowed, a button battery. Tragically, two children, (one 14 months and the other 4 years of age), have already died as a direct result of ingesting button batteries. That’s two too many.

Why button batteries are so dangerous

Button batteries pose two risks to children. First, they’re a choking hazard. Second, if swallowed, they cause excruciating and life-threatening burns to the oesophagus and surrounding tissues. The most frightening aspect of this is that the chemical reaction triggered by saliva coming into contact with the battery produces an electric charge that can cause severe internal burns in a matter of a few short hours.

Dealing with the problem of button batteries – How to safeguard your home

You need to familiarise yourself with the things in your home that are powered by button batteries. Check your children’s toys, especially any cheapies that may not have the batteries in a screw tight compartment. Discard any that give your child easy access to the batteries. Keep any other devices containing button batteries out of reach wherever possible and supervise your kids when they’re using them.

Keep any spare button batteries in locked container out of reach at all times and store used batteries in a locked container out of reach until you can take them to be recycled. You can find out more about battery recycling programs here at the Clean Up Australia website.

Signs your child may have swallowed a button battery

If your child swallows a button battery, there might not be any obvious signs of choking, especially if it’s a very small battery. The battery may not be visible and only able to be detected on a scan or x-ray.

However, there are some other signs that they may present with that indicate something’s amiss. If your child has swallowed a button battery they may present with one or more of these symptoms:

  • coughing
  • gagging
  • drooling
  • refusal of food
  • fever
  • vomiting

The real difficulty lies with the fact that these symptoms are also present in any number of common childhood illnesses, such as hand, foot and mouth or gastroenteritis.

What to do if you suspect your child has swallowed a button battery

If you suspect your child has swallowed a button battery, you need to act swiftly. It’s a life-threatening medical emergency. Call 000 immediately or get to a hospital emergency department.

In the meantime, don’t let your child eat or drink anything and don’t try to induce vomiting. If you have immediate access to the battery’s packaging, take it with you as it may assist medical staff to identify the battery and the hazards it poses.

What’s being done about button batteries

There’s a concerted effort afoot to raise awareness amongst parents and carers of young children about the dangers of button batteries. The Battery Controlled is one such campaign supported by major battery companies such as Energizer, Kidsafe, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACC), Woolworths and Mister Minit. You can find out more about it here

Recommendations as to changes to the way that button batteries are packaged and labelled were made at the conclusion of a coronial inquest into the death of 4-year-old Summer Steer. Summer died after swallowing a button battery in 2013 and her parents have been instrumental in raising awareness about button batteries.

Spreading the message about button batteries

The trouble with button batteries is that they’re everywhere. Whilst you can take every precaution to safeguard your kids in your own home, it’s inevitable they won’t be in your home 24/7. There are times when your kids may be looked after by friends, grandparents, or other relatives. That’s why raising awareness about button batteries and the dangers they pose is crucial.

Unfortunately, it’s not a problem that’s going to go away anytime soon. Button batteries are a relatively inexpensive and compact source of power for devices that are becoming increasingly compact and portable. Knowing the dangers they pose, sharing this message and actively taking steps to keep them out of your kids’ reach is the best protection you can give your kids against these tiny but deadly objects.

You may also like to read this real life story about a two year old that swallowed a button battery. 


Avatar of Kim Davies

KIM DAVIES is a forty-something latecomer to parenthood who’s haphazardly wrangling a husband, two daughters and career as a criminal lawyer. When she’s not fighting the good fight against injustice she’s picking up dirty undies and toenail clippings from the bathroom floor and spending her ‘me time’ putting pen to paper in the dead of night.

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