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Safety Tips for Button Batteries

Electronic devices are smaller than ever and often pose an unknown risk to young children who love to pick them up, take them apart, and put them in their mouths.

Small electronics found in most homes contain powerful coin lithium batteries. About 3,500 coin lithium battery swallowing cases are reported to U.S. poison control centers every year, and children under age four are at greatest risk. Coin-shaped lithium based power sources are found in such items as remote controls, small calculators, toys, electronic games, hearing aids, watches, key fobs, talking books, flashing shoes, cell phones, toothbrushes, and flameless candles.

The most problematic batteries are those that measure about 20mm, or slightly larger than a penny. These batteries tend to get stuck in the esophagus of young children. Since lithium batteries pack twice the voltage of older versions, 20mm power cells can also pose a more serious threat to children’s health. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, more than 2,800 children are treated each year in emergency rooms in the United States after swallowing button batteries. That’s one child every three hours. The number of serious injuries or deaths as a result of button batteries ingestion has increased nine fold in the last decade.

When a child swallows a button battery, the saliva triggers an electrical current. This causes a chemical reaction that can severely burn the esophagus in as little as two hours. It may not be obvious at first that there is something wrong, since children can still breathe and act normally after ingesting a battery, though symptoms may be similar to other illnesses with coughing, drooling and discomfort.  

Researchers investigated how children were obtaining the batteries and found that 60% were getting them directly from a product such as a toy or game, with only 30% of children younger than six picking them up because they were loose or left lying around.

  • When purchasing new coin lithium batteries, parents are advised to choose batteries in packaging that require scissors to open.

  • Never leave batteries sitting out. Store all of the spare batteries, and batteries to be recycled, out of the sight and reach of young children.

  • Check all devices to be certain the battery compartment is secured shut. Use strong tape to secure compartments that children can open or that might pop open if the device is dropped.

  • Only purchase products that require a screwdriver or tool to open the battery compartment, or that are closed with a child-resistant locking mechanism.

  • If you suspect your child has ingested a battery or placed it in the ear or nose, go to the hospital immediately and tell doctors and nurses it might be a coin lithium battery. Prompt action is critical. Don’t induce vomiting or have your child eat or drink anything until assessed by a medical professional.

  • National Battery Ingestion Hotline: 1-202-625-3333. Call anytime for additional treatment information.


Data provided by Dr. Toby Litovitz and the National Capital Poison Center based on incidents reported to U.S. poison control centers; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Safe Kids Worldwide, Button Battery Safety Tips.

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