Dangers of button cell batteries and small toys

Date published: 07 December 2020

Parents and guardians are being warned about the dangers of lithium button cell batteries, which are used to power many children’s toys. These batteries are highly dangerous if accidentally swallowed. Everyone is also urged to make sure any toys bought for Christmas are appropriate for the age of the child.

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Lithium batteries can be fatal

The festive period can typically see a rise in the number of small, button-shaped lithium cell batteries introduced to the home as they're contained in electronic items, including:

  • toys
  • musical Christmas cards
  • remote controls 

Young children are naturally inquisitive, and explore the world in part by putting things in their mouths.

As new and interesting electronic items are introduced into the family home, the potential for children to swallow button cell batteries increases. This can lead to:

  • choking
  • burning

or

  • poisoning

If undetected, button cell batteries can do serious damage to the gastrointestinal system.

Lithium batteries react with saliva, setting up an electrical current which results in a build-up of caustic soda, which will burn through the oesophagus and major blood vessels.

This can cause serious, life-changing injury, and if not caught in time, can be fatal.

How to protect young children

There are a few simple things that can be done to help protect young children from the dangers of button cell batteries:

  • battery compartments should be checked to make sure they can’t be opened or broken easily
  • parents need to make sure that battery compartments are screwed shut when possible
  • keep spare batteries in a safe place out of reach of children
  • if you suspect your child has swallowed a button battery, seek medical help immediately

Treat these batteries the same way you would any poisonous substance – out of reach and out of sight.

It's also important in general to:

  • follow manufacturer guidelines
  • use your own judgement to select toys that are appropriate for the age and ability of the child

Choosing a small toy

It's important to remember that some children, particularly those under three, are more vulnerable to choking, and are less able to cope with some toys than older children.

Therefore it is important to buy age-appropriate toys.

You should also think about the ability and needs of the child – there can be significant differences in the abilities of children within the same age group, as children develop as different paces. 

There are also children with special needs whose requirement should be considered – if you think there are risks associated with the toy, then it is best to avoid buying it.

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