Button batteries, in particular big, powerful lithium coin cell batteries, can badly hurt or kill a small child if they swallow one and it gets stuck in their food pipe.
Unfortunately it is not obvious when a button battery is stuck in a child’s food pipe. There are no specific symptoms associated with this. The child may:
- cough, gag or drool a lot
- appear to have a stomach upset or a virus
- be sick
- point to their throat or tummy
- have a pain in their tummy, chest or throat
- be tired or lethargic
- be quieter or more clingy than usual or otherwise ‘not themselves’
- lose their appetite or have a reduced appetite
- not want to eat solid food / be unable to eat solid food.
But these sorts of symptoms vary. Plus, the symptoms may fluctuate, with the pain increasing and then subsiding.
This is why it is really important to trust your instincts and act fast if you if you suspect your child has swallowed a button battery, taking them to A&E or dialling 999 for an ambulance.
One thing specific to button battery ingestion is vomiting fresh (bright red) blood. If the child does this then seek immediate medical help.
Studies in animals have shown that coating a button battery in honey can slow down the reaction of the battery inside the animal’s food pipe. This raises the question of whether to give a child honey if they accidentally swallow a button battery.
The answer isn’t straightforward. Here’s why:
- It takes a lot of honey to slow the reaction – 2 spoonfuls every 10 minutes. Which may not be possible if your child is not willing to eat anything or is being sick.
- Giving this much honey may make your child sick – which wouldn’t be helpful in this situation.
- If your child needs general anaesthetic to remove the battery, it’s not ideal if they’ve had anything to eat or drink.
- Honey shouldn’t be given to children under 1.
- If you don’t have runny honey to hand, a few minutes delay trying to find honey and get your child to take it means delay getting to emergency doctors who can help.
So, the advice from doctors in the UK is, unless you have a long distance to the nearest A&E, getting to hospital as quickly as possible is the number one priority.
Download and share our top tips for keeping children safe, learn where you can find button batteries in your home, understand why ‘flat’ batteries are still dangerous and find out what to do in an emergency if you suspect your child has swallowed one.