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Swallowed Button Battery, Magnet, or Object With Lead

Topic Overview

Button batteries

Button batteries are used to power items such as watches, cameras, calculators, hearing aids, and computer games. Because of what they look like and their size, children can mistake button batteries for food or candy.

Swallowing button batteries is dangerous. They can get stuck in your airway and can:

  • cause chemical burns
  • damage your internal organs

Some button batteries have enough mercury in them that they could be life-threatening if swallowed.

If your child swallows a button battery it can cause burning, corrosion, or completely destroy the tissue in the upper digestive tract. This damage can happen very quickly and is likely to be worse if the battery gets stuck in the esophagus (throat) instead of moving into the stomach.

After swallowing a button battery your child might have 1 or more of these symptoms:

  • trouble breathing
  • wheezing, drooling
  • coughing and gagging when eating
  • trouble swallowing
  • chest pain
  • belly pain
  • nausea, vomiting
  • no appetite
  • fever

There might not be any symptoms after swallowing a button battery, but injury can still occur.

If you think someone has swallowed a button battery:

  • do not try to make them vomit
  • take them to an emergency department immediately

Serious injury can occur within 2 hours of the battery being swallowed.

If you have honey at home, you can give 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of honey if your child meets all of the following:

  • it's within 12 hours of swallowing the battery
  • they're over 12 months old
  • they can swallow liquids

Then go to the emergency department.

You can give up to 6 doses of honey, about 10 minutes apart. If your child vomits, do not give another dose.

Do not delay transport to hospital to get or give honey. Do not give your child anything else to eat or drink.

Magnets

Magnets are often found in toys and magnetic play sets. Magnets can be easily swallowed. They can stick to the bowel and cause a blockage or a hole to form. If more than one magnet is swallowed, they could stack together or magnetically join across loops of the intestines and cause serious problems.

Swallowing a magnet may cause symptoms similar to other abdominal problems, such as feeling sick to the stomach (nausea), vomiting, belly pain, or diarrhea.

If you think someone has swallowed a magnet:

  • Do not cause (induce) vomiting.
  • Call your doctor to discuss the problem. Medical treatment may be needed.

Objects with lead

Objects that contain a lot of lead (such as bullets, buckshot, fishing weights and sinkers, and some toys) also can cause problems if swallowed.

Lead poisoning may cause behaviour changes, lack of energy, or headaches.

If you think someone has swallowed an object with a lot of lead:

  • Do not cause (induce) vomiting.
  • Call your doctor to discuss the problem. Medical treatment may be needed.

Related Information

Credits

Current as ofSeptember 23, 2018

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
David Messenger, BSc, MD, FRCPC, FCCP - Emergency Medicine, Critical Care Medicine

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