Button Battery Safety - Lithium Coin Batteries Poise Health Risks to Children

Lithium Button Batteries

Shiny. Sparkly. Smooth. Perfect to put in my mouth!

That is what a toddler may think when they see a button (lithium) battery.  Button batteries are all around us know as they help keep our devices powered for a longer duration than alkaline batteries.  They are in remote controls, calculators, thermometers, and hearing aids, as well as a myriad of other objects.  So this means they are all over your house.  Most of the time they are not accessible to your child, but if someone has taken one out and not disposed of it properly or if your child is able to open the battery compartment of the device, your child can get into trouble with it.

As soon as infants start to become mobile, first with crawling, and then walking, they often like to explore the world with their mouth by picking things up—that aren’t food—and putting them in their mouth.  This happens to all manner of things including coins and beads, but this also happens with button batteries.  Although it is always concerning when a child ingests a foreign object, button batteries can be lethal.

When a child swallows a non-food object, often it goes into the stomach, and if it does that, it will then eventually proceed out of the gastrointestinal tract with a bowel movement.  However, at times, non-food objects can get stuck in the esophagus, the muscular tube that connects your mouth the stomach.  There are three placed in the chest where the foreign object can get stuck in the esophagus.  If this happens and the object doesn’t move into the stomach after several hours, the object needs to be removed, usually by a fiberoptic scope.

Button batteries pose a particular hazard because the chemicals in the battery can react with the muscle of the esophagus and can erode through, making a hole.  Children have died after ingesting a button battery when the battery became stuck in the esophagus and then eroded through into the aorta (the largest blood vessel in the body), which lead to hemorrhage of blood and eventually death. Sometimes children place the battery up their nose, which can also cause problems with eroding through the tissues of the nose.

Sometimes parents know when their child has ingested a battery—either they saw it, or there was another witness (usually a sibling), or the child says something to the parent.  But sometimes children present with drooling or trouble swallowing, or with a history of choking, but no known foreign body ingestion.  In these cases it may not be obvious that the child swallowed a button battery and there may be a delay in making the diagnosis with the potential that the child may become critically ill before it is discovered.  A two view chest x-ray can make the diagnosis.  Two views are important because with one view the button battery may look very similar to a coin, and the second view provides a little more detail about the ingested object (coin vs button battery.

So what can you do to prevent a button battery ingestion in your home?

1)         Make sure all devices that use a button battery have a secure cover.  If the cover comes off easily you may consider providing extra security with duct tape.

2)         Whenever a button battery is removed to be replaced, make sure it is disposed of immediately so the child won’t be able to have access to it.

3)         Educate anyone wearing hearing aids who are in your household or who may come to visit (e.g. grandparents) as they may not be aware of the risks of button batteries to small children.

4)         If your child is drooling, or having trouble swallowing, or if they have an episode of choking, have them evaluated by a medical provider for a possible button battery, or other object, ingestion.

For more information you can check out the Safe Kids website on the hazards of button batteries and how to keep your kids safe.


Boston Childrens Hospital Harvard Health & Wellness Safety