Americans accidentally swallowed nearly 3,500 button batteries in 2019, according to the National Poison Data System. Button batteries are the flat, disc-shaped batteries that you might find in small electronic devices like hearing aids, handheld toys, reading lights and some remote controls.
Because our homes are filled with electronic gadgets and toys, the number of accidental button battery ingestions (BBI) has risen sharply — battery ingestions increased 66.7 percent between 1999 and 2019, mostly occurring in children under 6. While many of those swallowed batteries pass safely through the digestive system, they can also be a serious choking and poison hazard, especially for younger kids.
The worst culprit is the three-volt CR2032, a disc-shaped lithium-ion battery that looks like a piece of shiny candy to toddlers. With a diameter of 20 millimeters (0.8 inches), the CR2032 can easily get lodged in a child's esophagus. Sadly, more that 90 percent of fatalities from battery ingestions over the past 15 years came from swallowing a CR2032.
Beyond being a choking hazard, the electrical properties of button batteries can lead to serious internal injuries. When the battery makes contact with the mucus membrane in the esophagus, it creates a closed circuit, reported a 2018 study. The result is a "hydroxide-rich, alkaline solution" that's caustic enough to liquefy internal tissue in as little as two hours of being stuck in the throat.
If a child accidentally swallows a button battery, they should be taken immediately to an emergency room, preferably at a pediatric hospital. But before you frantically run out of the house, researchers say, feed the kid a couple spoonfuls of honey.
It sounds like a folksy home remedy, but a report on BBI events published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in September 2021, found that injuries from swallowed batteries can be mitigated by small doses of honey administered while waiting for the battery to be removed. That's because honey is slightly acidic, which helps to neutralize the alkaline solution created when the battery touches the esophageal lining.
The new recommendation is based on the 2018 study where researchers, working with baby pigs, found that 10 milliliters (2 teaspoons) of honey administered every 10 minutes was "ideal" for neutralizing the damage inflicted by the swallowed battery while waiting for it to be removed. The pigs still suffered from an ulcer at the point of contact, but none of the injuries led to a perforation of the esophagus, which is the most serious condition.
Honey outperformed a dozen other household liquids like Gatorade, apple juice and maple syrup, which had minimal to no protective effects. The only other liquid that matched the effectiveness of honey for swallowed batteries was Carafate, an ulcer medication.
We should emphasize that honey is NOT a treatment or "cure" for a swallowed battery, but rather a way to lower the risk of certain injuries while waiting for other medical interventions. If you see a child swallow a battery, or even think they may have swallowed one, take them to the hospital where doctors can give them an X-ray and figure out the best course of action.
Grab the honey bear, too. Just to be safe. The new recommendation says to give 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) every 10 minutes for up to six doses to children over the age of 1.