Button Batteries: Are your used batteries really ‘flat’?


“The worst case we had was a 3-year-old boy who swallowed a button battery (lithium coin cell) from some weighing scales. He swallowed the ‘flat’ battery when it was being replaced with a new one. We removed it within 3-4 hours but he had a nasty burn of his oesophagus.” – Consultant gastroenterologist

Button batteries, in particular big, powerful lithium coin cell batteries (like a 5 pence piece), can badly hurt or kill a small child if they swallow one and it gets stuck in their food pipe.  But how can a ‘flat’ battery cause harm?

Here we shine a light on the problem and explain how to keep children safe.

‘Flat’ batteries aren’t ‘flat’!

Most of us think that, when a product we’re using stops working, the battery must have no power left and be ‘flat’.

However, many ‘flat’ lithium coin cell batteries still hold enough charge to burn a small child’s food pipe, if they swallow one and it gets stuck there.

That’s because modern products are power-hungry. And a ‘flat’ battery that is no longer up to the task of powering your device can still hold a charge powerful enough to cause harm.

Hidden injuries

The little boy in this story was lucky. His dad spotted that the ‘flat’ battery had gone missing, suspected it had been swallowed and rushed him to hospital.

However, many batteries are swallowed without the adults knowing and with the child too young to be able to tell them.

We know of cases where the lithium coin cell battery has been lodged in the child’s food pipe for days or weeks before discovery.

That’s because the symptoms can be vague and mimic common ailments, so it’s not always clear how dangerous the situation is.

This little boy only had the ‘flat’ battery stuck in his food pipe for 3-4 hours, yet significant damage had already been done.

Now we know the dangers

It’s a pretty scary prospect that your child could swallow something easily found in your home and it could be burning their food pipe and they may just seem a bit unwell.

Let’s be honest, how many of us have used batteries spilling out of lidless plastic pots waiting for them to magically disappear? Rarely does the trip to recycling make it to the top of the never-ending to-do list of parenthood.

But that was before we knew. The potential consequences may be dire but the solution couldn’t be simpler:

  • Keep your used ‘flat’ batteries well out of children’s reach, high up in a sealed container.
  • Take them to recycling as soon as you can.
  • Find out where to take yours here: recyclenow.com.
  • Many shops that sell batteries are required to offering recycling – so when you grab your bags for the shops, grab your old batteries too.

More information

Button Batteries

The risks

Find out more about why button batteries are so dangerous.

Button Batteries Fact Sheet - English

Top tips

Download and share our top tips for keeping children safe.

Button Batteries Poster: Where are yours?

Where are they?

Learn where you can find button batteries in your home.

In an emergency

Find out what to do in an emergency if you suspect your child has swallowed a button battery.

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