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Button Battery Safety

Kids find and swallow the strangest things like buttons, marbles, coins, beads, small parts of toys, jewelry, crayons, kitty litter, popped ballons… need we go on?

Lukily, their little stomachs can handle almost anything they can get down. The proof shows up in the poopy diaper or training pants within the next few days.

But it’s not always a game of ‘Button, button, who’s got the button?’ with every object a child might swallow. There are a few things that can become quite dangerous, quite quickly.

One possibly dangerous thing to know about is the small, flat batteries that power some portable electronics such as remote controls, watches, calculators, toys, hearing aids, ear or thermal scan thermometers, kitchen scales, sing-along books, musical greeting cards and decorative lights. Different names used for them include button batteries, coin batteries, and disk batteries.

Every year, the poison centers across the country handle about 3,500 cases of swallowing button batteries. Last year in Missouri, this happened 81 times, and two-thirds were in children aged 9 months to 5 years old.

If a button battery is swallowed, most of the time—like anything else your goat-child might eat — it passes quickly into the stomach where it is out of danger, and all the way through and out the other end without a problem inside of 4 days. BUT, if the button battery should happen to get stuck on the way down to the stomach, it can immediately begin to cause an electrical burn. It can burn a hole at the spot where it is trapped in a matter of hours.

An older child or an adult who gets a button battery stuck will know it immediately because it is uncomfortable — often downright painful — and start complaining that it hurts when they swallow, or even that they can’t swallow at all. So if they say they’re OK after swallowing a button battery, they’re OK.

On the other hand, a young child, or an older child or adult with special needs, might not be able to indicate that anything is wrong. Maybe the only clue they give that the battery got stuck is acting fussy, or drooling, or refusing to eat or drink anything.

You can’t take a chance when that happens—the only way to be safe and be sure when anyone swallows a button battery is to call the Poison Help line for advice at 1-800-222-1222. Be prepared to head out to the nearest hospital emergency room for an immediate X-ray to find out if the battery is in a safe spot or not. If you get the “all clear” you may still be asked to monitor stools in a young child until you see the battery pass.

  • Track down all the small electronics with button batteries in the house. Check the battery compartment to see if it closes tightly and is hard to open. A cover that screws down is ideal. Sometimes the slim and sleek models are very easy to open and get the battery out.
  • Keep devices out of reach if the battery compartments aren’t secure, and lock up replacement batteries.
  • When the battery is used, throw it in the trash right away.
  • Put it inside something else like an empty milk jug so it won’t bounce out of the trash can. Little fingers go everywhere.
  • Program the Poison Help line into your phone, 1-800-222-1222.
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