The tiny batteries that add music to greeting cards and make hearing aids work also can pose a hazard to children or seniors who mistake one for a piece of candy or a prescription pill. Button or coin batteries, the tiny 3 volt cells about the size of an aspirin, can cause serious injury or death if they are swallowed.

Parents or caregivers may not even realize a toddler or senior has swallowed a button battery, which can lodge in the throat or intestine, begin to release hydroxide and cause serious chemical burns.

According to the National Capital Poison Center, the reports of serious injury or death from button batteries have increased sevenfold since 1985, as small electronics have become more common. In all, 31 people have died and another 125 received severe esophageal or airway burns. The most dangerous battery is the 20-mm diameter lithium coin cells, but other battery types and smaller button batteries may also get stuck and cause serious problems.  Burns and life-threatening complications can occur if batteries aren't removed from the esophagus within two hours. 

The Poison Center advises that parents or caregivers check to make sure the battery compartment is secure on any device with a button battery, using tape if the device might pop open when dropped.

Potential sources of button batteries include:

  • Talking books or singing greeting cards
  • Handheld video games
  • Key fobs or garage door openers
  • Flash and pen lights
  • Flashing shoes or jewelry
  • Calculators
  • Bed-wetting monitors
New requirements go into effect at the beginning of 2014 to alert consumers to the presence of a coin or button battery. The products will be marked with a symbol that tells the user to check the instruction manual, which will explain the potential danger of ingesting a button battery and caution the user to keep the product out of the reach of children. The products will be marked with a symbol (an exclamation point within a triangle) that tells the user to check the instruction manual, which will explain the potential danger of ingesting a button battery and caution the user to keep the product out of the reach of children. In the meantime, we are working with manufacturers to determine that certified products meet standards for secure battery compartments.

Photo: James Bowe/Flickr

Resources:

Consumer Product Safety Commission

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