About button cell batteries

If swallowed, a button battery can become stuck in a child’s throat and result in catastrophic injuries and even death. Insertion of button batteries into body orifices such as ears and noses can also lead to significant injuries. Keep new and used button batteries out of sight and out of reach of children at all times.

Button batteries are used in a broad range of consumer and household products including remote controls, watches, computers, cameras, calculators, torches, flameless candles, fitness devices, digital kitchen and bathroom scales, musical greeting cards, and home medical devices.

Many children’s toys are powered by or use button batteries to produce light and sound effects, including plush toys, toy cars, digital pets, early learning watches, light-up yo-yos, games, novelty items and singing Santas.

Risks and injuries

In Australia, one child a month is seriously injured after swallowing or inserting a button battery, with some of them sustaining lifelong injuries. In Australia and globally, there is a growing record of injuries and deaths from button batteries.

Button batteries pose a severe injury risk, particularly in children aged 0–5 years. Young children are at the greatest risk due to their narrower oesophagus and tendency to place small objects into their mouths, ears and noses.

The safety risk to children from button batteries arises when they can get access to the batteries. Children can access button batteries in a variety of ways, including:

  • products with battery compartments that are not secure
  • button battery packaging that is not child resistant
  • poor quality products which release button batteries when dropped or broken
  • spare batteries being provided loose in product packaging
  • spare batteries not being kept out of reach around the home
  • used batteries not being properly disposed of.

If swallowed, coin-sized button batteries can lodge in a child’s oesophagus. An electrical current is immediately triggered by saliva, which causes a chemical reaction that can cause severe burns to the child’s oesophagus and internal organs such as vital arteries, lungs, heart, larynx and spine. Serious injury can occur in as little as two hours and the results can be fatal.

Once burning begins, damage can continue even after the battery is removed from the body. Repairing the damage can be painful and may require multiple surgeries over many years. This can result in ongoing treatment and follow-up plans for injuries sustained from button battery ingestion.

Safe use

Secure button batteries

  • Examine products and make sure the compartment that houses the button battery in a product is child-resistant, such as being secured with a screw, so that the product does not release the battery and it is difficult for a young child to access the battery.
  • A number of products, particularly those purchased from overseas sellers or suppliers, may not be child-resistant, so be sure to check that the product you’re after is as safe and secure as it can be — even if it means spending a few dollars more.
  • Even if secure, button battery compartments are not necessarily child-proof. If the product in question is damaged or broken, the button battery inside can come loose. If the product is damaged or the button battery compartment does not close securely, stop using the product and keep it away from children.

Store button batteries out of reach of children

  • Keep new and used button batteries out of sight and out of reach of young children at all times.
  • Keep spare button batteries locked away where it is difficult for children to reach them — lock boxes, secure cupboards or high spaces are perfect for this.

Safely replace and dispose of button batteries immediately

  • Old or spent button batteries can still pose a threat, so safely dispose of them immediately.
  • Change button batteries on a flat surface, away from children, to avoid them rolling into places children can reach.
  • As soon as you have finished using a button battery, put sticky tape around both sides of it. This will make it harder for children to swallow the button battery and avoid the risk of the battery catching fire.
  • Dispose of button batteries immediately in an outside bin, or put them in a child resistant container, out of reach of children, and recycle them at your nearest drop off point, taking your container home for reuse.

What to do in an emergency

If you suspect your child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, call the Poisons Information Centre immediately on 13 11 26 for 24/7 fast, expert advice. If your child is having any difficulty breathing, contact 000.

Prompt action is critical. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.

Not every health facility can manage injuries due to button batteries. Availability of care depends on where you live. The Poisons Information Centre can direct you to an appropriate medical facility that can manage the injury.

Do not let the child eat or drink and do not induce vomiting.

Remember, children are often unable to effectively communicate that they have swallowed or inserted a button battery. There may be none of the symptoms below. If you suspect a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, then ask for an X-ray from a hospital emergency department to make sure.

Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • gagging or choking
  • drooling
  • chest pain (this may present as grunting)
  • coughing or noisy breathing
  • unexplained vomiting or food refusal
  • bleeding from the gut — black or red vomit or bowel motions
  • nose bleeds — sometimes this can be blood vomited through the nose
  • unexplained fever
  • abdominal pain
  • general discomfort
  • spitting blood or blood-stained saliva
  • bloody discharge from ear or nose.