Every week, a number of Australian children present to a hospital emergency department following exposure to button batteries, including ingestions and insertions. Keep products with button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children.
Button batteries are found in many common household products, such as toys, car keys, TV remote controls, calculators, kitchen and bathroom scales, and greeting cards.
Button batteries are a severe injury risk for children. Every week, young children present to an emergency department following exposure to button batteries. Incidents most commonly involve children younger than six years of age.
The safety risk to children from button batteries arises when they can get access to the batteries. This may occur in different ways:
- household or other products which use button batteries do not have secure or ‘child resistant’ battery compartments
- products are supplied with uninstalled button batteries in packaging that is not child resistant
- new or replacement button batteries are purchased in packaging that is not child resistant
- old or spent button batteries have been removed from a product but not 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. This can take only a few hours, resulting in serious injury or death. These injuries can occur even if the battery that is swallowed has been used and no longer has enough charge to operate the product.
Once burning begins, damage can continue even after the battery is removed and repairing the damage can be painful and may require multiple surgeries.
Symptoms that may occur after swallowing a button battery include:
- gagging or choking
- chest pain (this may present as grunting)
- coughing or noisy breathing
- unexplained vomiting or food refusal
- bleeding from the gut: black or red vomits or bowel motions
- nose bleeds – sometimes this can be blood vomited through the nose
- unexplained fever.
These symptoms are similar to many other conditions and may not appear for some time, so it may not be suspected that the child has swallowed a battery.
If buying a toy, household device or novelty item, look for products that do not run on button batteries. If you do buy button battery operated products look for ones where the battery compartment requires a tool or dual simultaneous movement to open. This will make it difficult for a young child to access the battery.
- Keep products with button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children.
- Examine devices and make sure a child cannot gain access to the batteries inside.
- Dispose of used button batteries immediately. Old or spent batteries can still be dangerous.
- Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.
- If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 and you will be directed to the nearest hospital or emergency service that can manage the injury.
- Prompt action is critical. Don't wait for symptoms to develop.
- If you suspect a battery was swallowed, don't let the child eat or drink until an X-ray is taken showing the battery is beyond the oesophagus. Do not induce vomiting.
The ACCC has established a taskforce to conduct an investigation into button battery safety and consider the options of implementing a safety and information standard for button batteries and products containing button batteries under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
As part of this process, the ACCC has released a Button Battery Safety Issues Paper for consultation. The consultation closes on 30 September 2019.