“It turns out this is one of the most damaging and dangerous things that my beautiful boy could have ever swallowed. They cause deep and extremely fast corrosion burns into soft human tissue. It does not get much worse than this.”

Festive tea lights, singing Santas and flashing Christmas wands are all powered by lithium button batteries, many of them easily accessible to curious little fingers.

This Christmas we are asking families to keep potentially dangerous products out of reach of babies, toddlers and small children, and to be equally careful about where they store spare and used batteries. Even an apparently ‘flat’ battery has enough power to cause serious harm if it gets stuck.

We’re concerned that small children put everything in their mouths, with potentially lethal consequences.

Lithium button cell battery isolated on white

What’s the problem?

Most button batteries pass through the body without a problem. But if a button battery – particularly a lithium coin battery, gets stuck in the throat or gullet, energy from the battery reacts with saliva to make the body create caustic soda. This is the same chemical used to unblock drains!

This can burn a hole through the throat and can lead to catastrophic internal bleeding and death. The reaction can happen in as little as two hours.

All batteries pose a risk to children but the size and power of button batteries and the size of the child matter. With a large, powerful lithium coin cell battery and a small child, the risks are greatest.

It’s not just fully charged button batteries that pose a risk. Modern devices need a lot of power. When power levels drop, we think the battery is flat and discard it. But it can still have enough electrical charge left to badly injure a child. 

Spare batteries are culprits too. Some lithium button batteries are individually sealed in the packet and can only be removed with scissors. But with other packets, especially cheaper ones, once you open them, all the batteries come out. So spares end up being stored in open containers or even loose in a drawer.

Button batteries are also dangerous if they get stuck in a child’s nose or ear.

In this film, George Asan talks about his daughter Francesca, who died after swallowing a spare button battery.

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