In the run-up to Christmas, parents are being warned about the potentially fatal consequences if a child swallows a ‘button’ or ‘coin’ battery. Around two children a year die in the UK after swallowing button or coin batteries with many more being badly injured.

Button and coin batteries are found in many household objects, children’s toys, remote controls and electronic items including musical Christmas cards. They are usually small, round and silver in colour.

Renfrewshire Council’s Trading Standards Team issued the warning as part of a national campaign being run by the Children’s Accident Prevention Trust to educate parents and carers about the dangers posed by button and coin batteries.

On Christmas Eve 2021, 17-month old Hugh McMahon swallowed a button battery at his home in Motherwell. Surgeons battled for 12 hours to save him but despite their best efforts the toddler later died. Tests showed that a hole the size of a 5p coin had been burned in his heart.

The Children’s Accident Prevention Trust website highlights the dangers of lithium button and coin batteries, “If a lithium coin cell battery gets stuck in the food pipe, the battery reacts with saliva to create caustic soda. This is the same chemical used to unblock drains.

“This can burn through the food pipe, to the main artery and lead to catastrophic internal bleeding and death. The chemical reaction can happen in as little as two hours. However, sometimes it takes days or even weeks.

“Lithium coin cell batteries can also cause life-changing injuries. There is a risk that the food pipe may be too badly damaged for a child to eat normally again, or the vocal cords may be too badly damaged for a child to speak normally again.”

The flat, 5p size, lithium coin batteries are the most dangerous as they can lodge in a child’s food pipe. If a child swallows one of these batteries, it is a race against time to get them to hospital for emergency surgery. And flat batteries are just as dangerous as live ones.

Councillor Marie McGurk, Convener of Renfrewshire Council’s Communities & Housing Policy Board, said, “We cannot stress enough how important it is to keep these batteries out of the reach of children. The law is very clear about toys which are powered by button or coin batteries – the batteries must be impossible for children to reach. For example, the battery cover may be held in place by a screw.

“But there are many other everyday items which have button or coin batteries where the battery cover is just a push fit. These include bathroom scales, night lights, thermometers and remote central locking car keys. The list goes on and on.

“This Christmas we urge parents and carers to check that anything they buy for their children meets the appropriate safety standards.”

According to the Trust, children aged 6 months to 4½ years are most at risk. Crawling babies up to pre-schoolers are in special danger as they explore the world by putting things in their mouths. Toddlers are also naturally inquisitive and can be very determined to explore and get into things.

However, older children can be fascinated by button and coin batteries too. In some cases, they may deliberately put one of these batteries in their mouth or on their tongue to experience the sensation of the electrical ‘fizz’.

More information on button batteries is available from the Child Accident Prevention Trust at www.capt.org.uk/button-batteries-understanding-the-risks 

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Founder of Paisley.org.uk in 1998 and constantly strives to change peoples attitudes to the town, Brian is a self described Paisley Digital Champion who promotes Paisley via any means necessary. You can also follow me on X