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Button batteries

Definition

Button batteries are tiny, round batteries usually used to power watches and hearing aids. Children often accidentally swallow these batteries or put up them up their nose, where the battery can be further breathed in (inhaled).

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Alternative Names

Swallowing batteries

Where Found

  • Calculators
  • Cameras
  • Hearing aids
  • Penlights
  • Watches

Symptoms

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

  • Breathing problems
  • Cough
  • Pneumonia (if the battery goes unnoticed)
  • Possible complete respiratory failure

A swallowed battery may cause no symptoms at all, but if it becomes stuck in the esophagus or stomach, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody stools
  • Cardiovascular collapse (shock)
  • Chest pain
  • Gastrointestinal inflammation
  • Hole in the esophagus
  • Nausea
  • Metallic taste
  • Vomiting (possibly bloody)

Home Treatment

Seek immediate medical help. Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • Patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national 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.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

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

What to expect at the emergency room

The health care provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. You may receive:

  • An x-ray to locate the battery
  • Direct laryngoscopy or immediate surgery if the battery has been breathed in and is causing a life-threatening airway blockage
  • Endoscopy to remove the battery if it has been swallowed and is still in the esophagus or stomach
  • Removal of the battery immediately with bronchoscopy if the battery has been breathed into the lungs

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

The battery should then be followed with x-rays until it passes in the stool. If any symptoms develop, it may mean that the battery has moved back up into the stomach and will have to be removed with an endoscope.

Expectations (prognosis)

How well you do depends on the type of battery swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster you get medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Most swallowed batteries, however, pass through the gastrointestinal tract without causing any serious damage.

References

Mahajan PV. Heavy metal intoxication. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 708.

Munter DW. Esophageal foreign bodies. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 39.

Litovitz T, Whitaker N, Clark L, White NC, Marsolek M: Emerging battery ingestion hazard: Clinical implications. Pediatrics 2010;125(6): 1168-1177. epub 24 May 2010.


Review Date: 2/16/2012
Reviewed By: Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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