“They look inviting:” Button cell batteries power kids toys, but could also cause life-threatening burns

MILWAUKEE -- They're shiny, smooth and the size of a quarter. But if you swallow one, it can literally burn through your esophagus or stomach. We're talking about button cell batteries. You can find them inside toys, children's books, singing birthday cars as well as inside hearing aids.

Button cell battery

"These buttons are shiny, they look inviting, they look like a toy," said Dr. John Cox at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. "The number of kids that are ingesting batteries is going up."

Dr. Cox said swallowing a battery can cause permanent, even life-threatening burns in as little as two hours.

"If a parent knows or even suspects that their child ingested a battery, you need to pack up and go to the emergency room right away," said Dr. Cox.

Dr. John Cox

Button batteries are especially tempting to kids because they are so easy to pop into their mouths, ears or nose. They are in remote controls, hearing aids, garage door openers and toys that light up or make noise.

Book with button cell battery

Book with button cell battery

Button cell battery

Dr. Cox says a button battery stuck in the esophagus is a true medical emergency.

"The esophagus lives right next to vital organs like the aorta and heart," said Dr. Cox.

At Underwriters Laboratories in Illinois, a piece of bologna represents the human stomach. A single battery is placed on top. 20 minutes later, the battery is burning through the meat.

Button cell battery's impact on piece of bologna

"The higher the voltage, the quicker the damage and the faster the damage is going to occur," said Steve Woynerowski of Underwriters Laboratories.

Some signs a child may have swallowed a battery include distress, crying in pain, drooling excessively, vomiting and coughing up blood.

Button cell battery

"They may be pointing to their throat or to their chest," said Dr. Cox.

Even a dead battery has enough charge to cause serious burns if swallowed. Likewise, if a button battery becomes stuck in a child's ear or nose, seek medical attention immediately. To prevent a child from swallowing one, store all new and used batteries in a safe place. If you have a toy or remote control with batteries, make sure they are screwed in tightly so tiny hands cannot pry them out.