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Swallowed Battery: A Guide to Immediate Action

Updated: 2 days ago


Every parent's worst nightmare is a moment of distraction where their child puts something unexpected in their mouth. And in the case of swallowing a button battery, that moment can quickly turn into a medical emergency.


Button batteries, found in countless everyday devices like remotes, toys, and hearing aids, pose a serious threat to young children. Their small size makes them easy to swallow, and once ingested, they can cause severe internal damage within hours.

This blog serves as a critical resource for parents, providing essential information and immediate action steps in case your child swallows a button battery.



Button batteries of varying sizes.
Button batteries | Gerhard H Wrodnigg, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

What to Do


Time is of the essence. Do not wait for symptoms. Act immediately if you suspect your child has swallowed a battery. A child can be in pain or appear completely normal even if they swallow a battery. If you have even the slightest suspicion that your child has ingested a battery, keep these in mind:


1. Call 911 or go to the ER right away.


2. While waiting for help, try to determine the type and size of the battery if possible by looking at the immediate surroundings of your child at the time of ingestion. Knowing this can help medical professionals provide the best treatment.


3. If it's available (and if they're not allergic), give your child a few teaspoons of honey. This coats the battery and creates a barrier against your child's throat.


4. Wait for medical attention. If you have questions the Poison Control Center is available to call 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222.


Every minute counts. The faster the child receives medical attention, the better. Stay calm and wait for medical professionals. They have the expertise to assess the situation and provide the necessary care.



Quick Facts


Frequency

In the United States, approximately 3,500 button battery ingestions are reported annually.


Age Group

Children under the age of 6 are most at risk of button battery ingestion, with toddlers and infants being particularly vulnerable.


Kind of Battery

The most commonly ingested button batteries are 3-volt lithium coin cells due to their prevalence in electronic devices. These batteries can cause more significant injuries compared to alkaline batteries as they are big enough to get stuck and burn faster.


Swallowed Battery Injury Mechanism

An electrical current can form in the body, and hydroxide, an alkaline chemical, can cause tissue burns that can be fatal. The severity of the injury is directly related to the duration of contact with the tissue and the size of the battery.


Increase in Serious Cases

The number of serious injuries or deaths caused by button batteries has increased 9-fold in the last decade.


Fatalities

Between 1996 and 2010, 14 children aged 7 months to 3 years old died from ingesting button batteries. In recent years, (2016-2021), at least 27 children have lost their lives.


Prevention

While accidents may still happen, taking steps to prevent button battery ingestion is crucial. Here's what you can do.


  • Store button batteries safely and securely. Keep them out of reach and sight of young children, ideally in high cabinets or locked containers.

  • Dispose of used batteries properly. Do not throw them in the trash where children can access them. Use designated battery recycling bins.

  • Supervise children closely when they are playing with toys or devices that contain button batteries.

  • Talk to your children about the dangers of putting small objects in their mouths.

  • Have easy access to an up-to-date list of emergency hotline numbers within your home. We offer a convenient solution through our complimentary downloadable PDF, featuring essential emergency contacts, including poison control. An editable version is also provided, allowing you to personalize it with up to two preferred emergency points of contact.



Printable emergency contact information sign by ENT Family.


Swallowed batteries may seem innocuous, but they present a significant risk, especially to children. By taking preventive measures and knowing what to do in case of an emergency, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from the hidden dangers within these common household items. Stay informed, stay vigilant, and keep batteries safely out of reach. Your actions could save a life.

Dr. David Eleff, Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at ENT Family in Hollywood, Florida.

This article has been medically reviewed by  otolaryngologist, David Eleff, M.D.

ENT Family Blog

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