Parents warned about dangers of button batteries this Christmas

  • Parents are being warned about the dangers of button batteries this Christmas

  • The Children’s Accident Prevention Trust website has highlighted the potentially fatal dangers of lithium button and coin batteries if swallowed by children

  • Around two children a year die in the UK after swallowing button or coin batteries with many more being badly injured

  • Read on to discover why button batteries can be so dangerous and how to protect your family this Christmas

Button batteries will be found in many toys this Christmas and experts are concerned. (Getty Images)
Button batteries will be found in many toys this Christmas and experts are concerned. (Getty Images)

Parents are being warned about the dangers of button batteries this Christmas following an investigation into the death of a child who swallowed one.

The small round batteries, which are often found in toys and remote controls, can cause chemical burns if they come into contact with the mouth or nose.

"Button and coin batteries can pose a severe health risk, particularly to children and pets, if inserted, swallowed or ingested," government guidance explains. "Although a child may not choke if they swallow a button or coin battery, the batteries can do serious internal damage."

The guidance goes on to explain that though any coin or button battery can pose a serious risk, coin batteries pose the most risk due to their larger size.

"These batteries can react with saliva if lodged in the throat to create caustic soda, a chemical often used to unblock drains," the warning continues. "This chemical reaction can burn and lead to internal bleeding, and possibly death. If a battery gets into the stomach, it can cause significant tissue damage."

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Stock picture of button batteries which parents are being warned about this Christmas. (Getty Images)
Button Batteries can be dangerous or even fatal if they are swallowed by children this Christmas. (Getty Images)

There have been a handful of recent child fatalities in the UK as a result of button or coin battery ingestion, including a two-year-old girl who died in May 2021 after swallowing batteries from a remote control.

According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), at least two children a year die as a result of swallowing lithium batteries in the UK.

On Christmas Eve last year, 17-month old Hugh McMahon swallowed a button battery at his home in Motherwell.

Surgeons battled for 12 hours to save him but despite their best efforts the toddler later died. Tests showed that a hole the size of a 5p coin had been burned in his heart.

The not for profit organisation has reiterated their advice to parents to be aware of the dangers of button batteries this Christmas.

"If a child swallows a big powerful lithium coin cell battery, the damage can be life-altering or even fatal," a press release explains.

"But button batteries are an inevitable part of Christmas. They power so many products, from Christmas novelties to remote controls for anything that lights up."

Watch: Mother warns parents to search home for hidden button batteries after daughter died

The CAPT explains that while toys from reputable retailers will come with a screw on the button battery compartment, cheaper toys bought online may not offer any protection.

"The damage a lithium coin cell battery does to a child’s food pipe if it gets stuck can happen alarmingly quickly, with few clear symptoms to warn you," the site adds.

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The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) has previously alerted parents to the risks of the batteries, advising families to store and dispose of the batteries safely.

“These batteries pose a very real risk to small children and babies, and the consequences of swallowing a button battery can be truly devastating,” said Dr Kevin Stewart, former medical director for the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB).

“This is why we are calling on families this festive period to be extra vigilant and to put in place some basic precautions around their house.

“It’s important that everybody knows that these batteries can be found everywhere, from toys to gadgets such as remote controls, digital scales and car fobs,” he continued.

“The best way to protect children is to place everything securely out of reach and double check that all toys have screws to secure any batteries.”

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Stock picture of a child playing with a toy that could contain button batteries. (Getty Images)
Button batteries are a concern for parents this Christmas. (Getty Images)

So what should parents do if their child does swallow or insert a battery?

“Parents or carers should bring their child to the nearest emergency department immediately if they think a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery,” Dr Rachel Rowlands, from Leicester Royal Infirmary explained as part of the HSIB campaign.

And with many Christmas items being powered by the batteries the warnings are even more important around the festive season.

Katrina Phillips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, said: “Festive tea lights, singing Santas and flashing Christmas wands are all powered by lithium coin cell batteries, many of them easily accessible to curious little fingers.

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

“We’re encouraging 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.”

HSIB’s tips for protecting children at Christmas

  • Batteries are everywhere: check household gadgets such as remote controls (TV, audio) and digital scales are safely out of reach of children and consider other items that might also have batteries (greeting cards, flameless candles, key fobs) which may not have the back secured with a screw.

  • Where a toy has batteries check that they are secured with a screw.

  • Think about where you store spare batteries and keep them in a high, lockable cupboard

  • Teach children that button batteries are dangerous.

  • Remember that even used batteries can be dangerous, never leave them on the side, put them out of children’s reach straight away and recycle them safely.

  • Check for discarded or old remote controls or fobs around the house which may contain old batteries

  • New toys often come with batteries included in the packaging – don’t lose them in the chaos of present unwrapping.