As electronics get smaller and smaller, so do the batteries that power them. Tricia Korioth reminds us that button batteries are the most dangerous when young children swallow them:

Children can suffer serious injuries or die if they swallow button batteries. Injuries are most common in children under 5 years old.

The batteries are used in toys, remote controls, thermometers, hearing aids, calculators, bathroom scales, key fobs, cameras and holiday ornaments.

Lithium batteries the size of a penny or larger are the most dangerous, and even dead batteries are harmful when swallowed. Smaller batteries also can get caught in the esophagus, or children can put them in their ears or nose.


It doesn’t take long — just an hour or two — for ingested batteries to cause chemical burns to the areas they contact. Swallowing one can block the airway resulting in difficulty breathing and wheezing, or cause burns of the esophagus, leading to difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, gagging, and vomiting. Damage to the stomach and intestine can lead to life-threatening internal bleeding or perforation.

Parents should treat ingestion of any battery as a life-threatening situation and take their child to the emergency department immediately. If the battery makes it into the distal esophagus or stomach, the acidic pH increases its electric current (even in “dead” batteries), causing even greater injury. The higher the voltage of the battery, the faster the injury.

Keeping batteries out of the hands (and mouths and ears and noses) of curious young children requires the diligence of parents and other caretakers. Awareness is the key to prevention:

To keep children safe from button battery injuries:

  • Use screws provided and tape to keep battery compartments sealed shut.
  • Keep loose batteries out of children’s reach. Never place batteries in cups or near pill bottles.
  • Check with your garbage company or local authorities to find out how to recycle batteries. Authorities advise placing tape on both sides of the dead battery and storing it in a zip bag out of children’s reach.


(Back pat: Dr. Ray O’Toole, Pediatric Alliance — Chartiers/McMurray)


Previous PediaBlog post on the dangers of battery ingestion here.


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