In this report

Safety alert: Button batteries

Last reviewed: December 2010
Greeting card with a button battery in it
Small battery cells are showing up more often in talking greeting cards and other novelties.

Small button-cell batteries long used for wristwatches and hearing aids are winding up in a lot more consumer products, including remote controls, toys, and even musical greeting cards.

But children have mistaken them for candy and adults for pills, with disturbing results. According to the National Battery Ingestion Hotline, more than 8,100 cases of battery ingestion, including at least 13 deaths, have been reported since 1985.

We conducted a simulation to see just how dangerous they were. We placed a coin-sized lithium battery between two slices of ham simulating the moistness of the gastrointestinal tract. Within hours the battery had burned through one of the slices.

The longer the battery remains in the body, the more severe the burns can become. Lasting damage can occur within just 2 hours.

The button-cell batteries in children's toys, such as musical books and toys, are secured in a locked compartment. Not so for some remote controls and singing greeting cards from which children can easily remove the batteries.

Bottom line

Keep cards and devices with button-cell batteries (and no screw cap) out of the hands of small children.