“Button” Battery Ingestion in Children

As a parent, I’ve noticed more and more of the electronic toys my children play with require the little round lithium batteries otherwise known as “button” batteries. Every year, thousands of children are ingesting these batteries either orally or by lodging them in the nasal cavity or ear canal.  In 2017 alone, over 3,000 ingestions were reported in the United States. Mercury or other heavy metal poisoning is NOT a concern when button batteries are swallowed, thanks to the “Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act” established in 1996. This Federal legislation banned the sale of mercuric oxide button cells in the U.S. and prohibits the use of intentionally introduced mercury in alkaline-manganese batteries.  What is dangerous in these small circular batteries is the electrical charge.  Button batteries often contain potassium or sodium hydroxide electrolyte in concentrations up to 45%.  If swallowed by children, they can become lodged in the upper esophagus and react quickly with saliva.  The battery discharges a current that hydrolyzes water and generates hydroxide, creating a caustic injury to the tissue.  Serious damage can occur in as little as two hours.  Button batteries can cause severe tissue burns and cause lifelong injuries.

The best way to prevent battery-related injuries is to ensure that children do not have access to button batteries.  Check products that use these batteries and be sure that the battery compartment is screwed shut and securely closed.  When a battery’s life has expired, dispose of properly. Even a battery that is “dead” and cannot power an electronic device can still cause tissue erosion in less than two hours.

If you suspect your child has swallowed one of these batteries, go immediately to the nearest emergency room.

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