Button batteries pose serious and potentially fatal risks if swallowed. Insertion into the ears or nose can also have serious consequences.
‘Button batteries’ are the small batteries that are used to power an increasing range of products, including hearing aids, watches, toys, games, flashing jewellery, calculators, musical greeting cards, remote control devices and many other items.
The batteries come pre-installed or with new devices, and replacements are sold in single or multiple packs.
Dangers of button batteries
If someone swallows or inserts a button battery it could get stuck and start causing significant irreversible damage in as little as 2 hours.
Children are the highest risk group, particularly those aged 6 and younger, because of their tendency to put things in their mouths and in their noses. But there have also been cases where the elderly have mistaken small batteries for tablets.
Safekids Aotearoa, a leading child safety advocate group, reports that every year 20 children are taken to Starship Hospital with serious button battery-related injuries. The National Poisons Centre gets around 90 button battery-related calls a year, almost all of which require referral to hospital for treatment.
What you can do
Prevention is the best cure:
- Search your home for devices containing button batteries, replacement batteries and spent batteries.
- Secure replacement button batteries and devices where children can’t access them. If you can’t secure a device that uses the batteries, you can glue the battery compartment shut to reduce the risk.
- Dispose of any spent batteries – don’t leave them lying around as they can still do damage.
- Share this information with caregivers, friends, family and whanau.
If you suspect someone has swallowed or inserted a button battery get help fast:
- Go to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately and tell staff a button battery has been swallowed or inserted.
- If possible, give the medical team detail of the battery involved — for example the numbers on the battery’s pack.
- Don't let the person eat or drink until an X-ray can determine if a battery is present.
- Don't induce vomiting.
For more information on button batteries — including information for medical practitioners — see the following websites:
Reducing the risks
Several initiatives are already underway that work to address the risks associated with button batteries.
Improving battery design
The battery industry is investigating battery design for ways to address the risks — for example, dye coating so you can tell a battery has been swallowed.
The Battery Controlled
An information initiative — The Battery Controlled — is also underway. This aims to raise awareness with:
- Consumers — of the risks, and what they can do to make their homes safer.
- Medical practitioners — of the need for speedy diagnosis and treatment. Typically foreign body ingestions are left to pass through the system, but this approach isn't suitable for button battery ingestion events.
Product Safety Policy Statement
The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has introduced a Product Safety Policy Statement to help reduce the risk potential in the home.
The policy statement sets the expectation that suppliers of button batteries — and goods containing or supplied with button batteries — will take steps to ensure that their products limit access to button batteries. Suppliers should also provide information and warnings to highlight the potential risks to parents and caregivers.