Button batteries

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Definition

Button batteries are tiny, round batteries. They are commonly used in watches and hearing aids. Children often swallow these batteries or put up them up their nose. They can be breathed in more deeply (inhaled) from the nose.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Alternative Names

Swallowing batteries

Where Found

These devices use button batteries:

  • Calculators
  • Cameras
  • Hearing aids
  • Penlights
  • Watches

Symptoms

If a person puts the battery up their nose and breathes it further in, these symptoms may occur:

  • Breathing problems
  • Cough
  • Pneumonia (if the battery goes unnoticed)
  • Possible complete blockage of the airway

A swallowed battery may cause no symptoms at all. But if it becomes stuck in the food pipe (esophagus) or stomach, these symptoms may occur:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody stools
  • Cardiovascular collapse (shock)
  • Chest pain
  • Inflammation in the stomach or intestines
  • Hole in the esophagus
  • Nausea or vomiting (possibly bloody)
  • Metallic taste in the mouth

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Time the battery was swallowed
  • Size of the swallowed battery

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Also, you can call the National Button Battery Ingestion Hotline (202-625-3333).

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

The person may receive:

  • An x-ray to locate the battery.
  • Blood and urine tests.
  • Bronchoscopy. Camera placed down the throat into the lungs to remove the battery.
  • Direct laryngoscopy (a procedure to look into the voice box and vocal cords) or surgery right way if the battery was breathed in and is causing a life-threatening airway blockage.
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing) for more serious cases.
  • Endoscopy (camera) to remove the battery if it was swallowed and is still in the esophagus or stomach.
  • Medicines to treat symptoms.

If the battery has passed through the stomach into the small intestine, the usual treatment is to do another x-ray in 1 to 2 days to make sure the battery is moving through the intestines.

The battery should continue to be followed with x-rays until it passes in the stool. If nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain develop, it may mean that the battery has caused a blockage of the intestines. If this happens, surgery may be needed to remove the blockage.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most swallowed batteries pass through the stomach and intestines without causing any serious damage.

How well someone does depends on the type of battery they swallowed and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.

References

Hess JM, Lowell MJ. Esophagus, stomach and duodenum. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 89.

Litovitz T, Whitaker N, Clark L, et al. Emerging battery ingestion hazard: clinical implications. Pediatrics. 2010;125(6):1168-77. PMID: 20498173 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20498173.

Mahajan PV. Heavy metal intoxication. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, et al, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 720.

Munter DW. Esophageal foreign bodies. In: Roberts JR, ed. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 39.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 10/20/2015
  • Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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