Regulations eyed after injuries, deaths associated with button batteries ingested by kids

Doctors say a handful of kids show up in the emergency room each year after trying to swallow a battery.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 3:52 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 12:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tiny round lithium batteries are able to power many devices in your home, but they’re dangerous to leave lying around for a toddler to find.

Dr. Camilla Fraga Lovejoy, of the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, said a handful of kids show up in the emergency room each year after trying to swallow a battery.

“The main worry is actually when it’s stuck in your esophagus, that’s when it causes the major damage,” Lovejoy said, adding it takes just minutes for the battery to start damaging the throat.

To show how quickly harm is done, we set up a camera in the Hawaii News Now kitchen. We put a brand new round battery in a chunk of Spam and a dead battery that needed to be replaced into another chunk of Spam.

Here are the results:

To show just how dangerous consuming one of them can be, we placed two batteries into slices of spam to see the chemical reaction.

In 15 minutes, it was clear, the meat had chemical burns and both chunks had started to turn color.

Thirty minutes in, the meat around the new battery started to bubble.

This is what experts say happens to a child’s throat if the battery gets stuck.

HNN Investigative Reporter Lynn Kawano joins "This is Now" to discuss a special series on battery safety.

“It can be life threatening for kids,” Lovejoy said, adding a battery can burn a hole through the esophagus.

In 2020, an 18-month-old Texas girl died days after surgery to remove a button battery that got lodged. Reese Hamsmith’s mother, Trista, pushed for legislative change, calling for more secure packaging and warning labels.

Reese’s Law passed earlier this year.

The button batteries are found in many everyday items, including:

  • car key fobs
  • remote controls
  • kid toys
  • hearing aids
  • watches
  • greeting cards

If you don’t see the child swallow a battery but notice one is missing, check for the signs that include vomiting, drooling, refusing to eat or drink.

If your child also seems to be choking, doctors advise you take the child to the ER immediately or call 911.