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Button Batteries

Button Batteries

Batteries can be a significant hazard as they are found in every household and the caustic material inside of the battery can lead to burns. But not all batteries are created equally, and there is a subset of batteries that frightens every specialist at IPC: button batteries.

Button batteries can be found in a variety of products including toys, hearing aids and musical greeting cards. Their small size, ranging from less than 12 mm to larger than 20 mm, makes them easy for children to ingest. These batteries can become lodged in the esophagus, causing a life-threatening medical emergency.

Burns from button batteries can develop within 2 hours of exposure. Burns are thought to be caused by:

  • Electrical current from the battery
  • Leakage of corrosive contents
  • Physical pressure against the esophagus 

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of a button battery lodged in the esophagus include:

  • Choking symptoms—gagging, wheezing, and/or difficulty breathing
  • General symptoms—vomiting, coughing, refusal to eat or drink, drooling, difficulty swallowing, and poor appetite.

If a button battery is unknowingly swallowed by a toddler, the symptoms may be mistaken for a simple cold.

While not as common, button batteries can still cause damage if a child sticks one up their nose or in their ear, of if a battery becomes stuck in their clothing and presses against the skin.

IPC also receives calls on adults ingesting button batteries. Typically it’s an elderly patient ingesting a hearing aid battery when either confused or distracted.

What to Do

  • Patients who are choking or in respiratory distress require immediate medical assistance. Call 911 right away.
  • Anyone with symptoms after a suspected button battery ingestion needs immediate medical attention and should go to their local hospital emergency department for evaluation. Depending on the location, a button battery may need to be removed by a gastrointestinal specialist.
  • Children under the age of 12 who do not have any symptoms still need an X-ray, as soon as possible to verify the location of the button battery.
  • Patients who have the button battery in their stomach or intestine and are symptom-free can be discharged home with instructions to monitor for symptoms and to check the stool to confirm the passage of the battery.

Honey Helps

Honey can prevent or delay the development of esophageal burns.

  • It’s recommend to give 2 teaspoons of honey every 10 minutes in patients ages 1 and older.
  • You can give up to six doses as long as honey administration does not delay transportation to an emergency department
  • Do not give honey to children under 1 year old due to the risk of developing botulism.

If you have a suspected exposure, please call IPC immediately at 1-800-222-1222 for management guidance. You can also contact National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 1-800-498-8666.