Safety: Button batteries

  • Button batteries are powerful, coin-sized batteries that are used in many toys and household products (e.g. keys, remote controls, calculators, musical greeting cards, watches and kitchen scales).

    Button batteries are especially hazardous if swallowed, and can cause lasting damage to the oesophagus and airway. Serious injury or death can result from ingesting a button battery.

    If you think a child has swallowed a button battery, call an ambulance (000 in Australia) or go to your nearest hospital emergency department immediately.

    Main cause of button battery injuries

    Babies and toddlers tend to put things in their mouths, and button batteries are appealing to young children as they are small and reflective.

    Often, parents don’t realise an item contains a button battery as the batteries are usually already installed. Children tend to have easy access to items that use button batteries (toys, calculators, musical greeting cards). The covers on these items can sometimes be easily removed, making them a potentially deadly hazard for young children.

    If a button battery is swallowed, it can burn through the oesophagus (swallowing tube) in just two hours, causing internal burns, severe bleeding or death. 

    What to do if you suspect a battery has been swallowed

    If you suspect a child has swallowed a button battery, call an ambulance (000 in Australia) or go to your nearest hospital emergency department immediately.

    Button battery injuries can be catastrophic if not treated immediately. If you think a button battery has been swallowed, do not wait for symptoms to appear before calling an ambulance.

    A child who has swallowed a button battery without anyone being aware may develop the following signs and symptoms:

    • noisy breathing or chest pain
    • problems swallowing or drooling
    • vomiting blood or passing dark and yucky poo

    If you child has any of the above, go to your nearest hospital emergency department immediately.

    Ways to prevent button battery injuries

    Children should never be allowed to play with button batteries. To prevent button batteries from being swallowed:

    • keep household items you suspect may contain button batteries out of reach
    • don’t allow children to play with car keys, remote controls or other household products containing button batteries
    • check toys in your home that contain button batteries and ensure they either have screw-on battery covers so that batteries can’t fall out or be easily removed or discard them if they don’t have this safety feature
    • avoid buying toys that require button batteries as a power source
    • keep spare batteries locked away and out of reach.

    Disposing of batteries

    Rather than throwing batteries into the rubbish bin, take used batteries to your local recycling collection point – this will prevent children having access to batteries and accidentally finding them once they have been discarded. You can recycle batteries at the following places:

    • Your local council (council websites often list additional disposal points)
    • Planet Ark
    • Aldi supermarkets
    • BatteryWorld
    • IKEA stores Richmond (VIC) and Springvale (VIC) provide recycling bins for batteries and other items. For other states, check your local IKEA store website to see if they accept batteries for recycling.

    Key points to remember

    • Button batteries are found in many different household items and toys.
    • Button batteries can cause serious injuries or death if swallowed.
    • Any child who is thought to have swallowed a button battery should be immediately taken to the nearest emergency department.

    More information

    Developed by RCH Community Information in consultation with RCH Trauma Service. First published 2017.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.