Dry cell battery poisoning
Dry cell batteries are a common type of power source. Tiny dry cell batteries are sometimes called button batteries.
This article discusses the harmful effects from swallowing a dry cell battery (including button batteries) or breathing in large amounts of dust or smoke from burning batteries.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Batteries - dry cell
- Acidic dry cell batteries
- Manganese dioxide
- Ammonium chloride
- Alkaline dry cell batteries
- Sodium hydroxide
- Potassium hydroxide
- Lithium dioxide dry cell batteries
Dry cell batteries are used to power a variety of different items. Small dry cell batteries may be used to power watches and calculators, while larger ones (for example, size "D" batteries) can be used in items such as flashlights.
Symptoms depend on what type of battery is swallowed.
Symptoms of acidic dry cell battery poisoning include:
Symptoms that can result from breathing in large amounts of the acidic battery, or contents, dust, and smoke from burning batteries include:
Symptoms of alkaline battery poisoning may include:
- Severe pain in the mouth
- Inability to breathe due to the throat swelling shut
- Severe pain in the throat
- Severe abdominal pain
- Rapid drop in blood pressure
Immediate emergency treatment is necessary after a battery is swallowed.
Seek immediate medical help. Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional. Immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider.
If the person breathed in fumes from the battery, immediately move him or her to fresh air.
If the battery broke and contents touched the eyes or skin, wash the area with water for 15 minutes.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- Patient's age, weight, and condition
- Type of battery
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
Poison Control, or a local emergency number
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
See: Poison control center - emergency number
What to expect at the emergency room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
The person will need immediate x-rays to make sure the battery is not stuck in the esophagus. Most swallowed batteries that pass through the esophagus will pass in the stool without complication. However, if a battery gets stuck in the esophagus it can cause a hole in the esophagus very quickly.
The patient may receive:
- Upper endoscopy - tube and camera through the mouth into the esophagus and stomach to remove a battery stuck in the swallowing tube (esophagus)
- Bronchoscopy - camera and tube down the throat into the lungs and airways to remove a battery that is stuck in the respiratory tract
Symptoms will be treated as appropriate.
How well a patient does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a patient gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery. Full recovery is often possible if treated quickly.
Serious problems are usually seen only following industrial accidents. Most household exposures (such as licking some liquid from a leaking battery or swallowing a button battery) are minor.
Hostetler MA. Gastrointestinal disorders. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 170.
- Last reviewed on 2/28/2012
- Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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