When Maggie, 3, swallowed a button battery after her birthday dinner, mom Katie Jacobsen of Barberton, Ohio, told TODAY Parents that she didn’t know just how serious button battery ingestion could be. “I knew that button batteries were not good for children to swallow,” she said. “I didn’t know all the details of why and I really, to be honest, didn’t realize they were still in toys because they were so dangerous.” 

In a now-viral Facebook post, Jacobsen explains that her older daughter, Eva, 16, read on a poison control website that giving kids honey could help reduce the risk of burns when the battery acid comes into contact with saliva.

Maggie’s parents fed her honey packets every few minutes as they rushed her to the emergency room. Doctors there told the Jacobsen family that the honey may have prevented a serious injury, after an X-ray revealed the battery had passed into her intestines, where there was very little risk for injury. Maggie was monitored overnight and was discharged the next morning.

What to know about button battery injuries

It can happen in the span of mere minutes—one moment, your little one is playing with that fun new battery-operated toy, the next, the battery compartment is open and you can’t find that silver button battery anywhere. Could they have swallowed it? Cue the panic: When swallowed, button batteries or lithium coin batteries can become lodged in a child’s throat or digestive tract, where they can cause severe chemical burns and tissue damage, even leading to death. But if a button battery is accidentally ingested, giving kids honey at regular intervals until they can receive emergency medical care may help reduce the risk of injury.

Found in common household items like remotes, small clocks or watches, key fobs, hearing aids and in various toys designed for children, button batteries are small and shiny and can be confused for candy by young kids, who might inadvertently swallow or insert the battery into their nose or ears.

Button battery injuries are common—and increasing. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), emergency department visits related to button batteries have significantly increased in the past decade (from 2010 to 2019), totaling upwards of 70,000 visits, which equates to about 9.5 visits per 100,000 kids every year. 

In the two decades prior (1990 to 2009), visits totaled 68,000. 

When an ingested battery comes into contact with bodily fluids, such as mucus or saliva, the battery can generate a current that creates a chemical reaction and produces small amounts of sodium hydroxide, a corrosive substance similar to lye, states AAP. The corrosive substance can then burn a hole in the spot where the battery is lodged. Infection or internal bleeding may follow, and the result can be serious injury, long-term disability, or even death, AAP says. 

Spare button batteries or lithium coin batteries should be stored out of children’s reach, but because the batteries can be found in so many household objects, kids may inadvertently get into them. 

Early treatment is of the utmost importance, as burns can happen fast. AAP notes that corrosion can start to occur in as few as two hours after ingestion. 

Button Batteries 640x335 update
Via healthychildren.org

If you're worried your child has ingested a button battery 

Swallowing a button battery or a lithium coin battery is always a medical emergency. Take your child to the nearest emergency room immediately.

If you have honey at home, give 2 teaspoons of honey to your child if they’re over 12 months old. You can give up to 6 doses of honey about 10 minutes apart. Do not give your child anything else to eat or drink, including water. If your child vomits, do not offer another dose of honey.

Most importantly, do not delay transport to the hospital to pick up honey, AAP notes.

How honey can help protect against button battery injury

In a 2018 study performed on pig cadavers, researchers inserted a button battery into the pigs’ esophagi. They then found that when irrigating the tissues every 10 to 15 minutes with honey, it neutralized the pH of the chemical reaction and prevented an esophageal perforation. Similar results were seen when irrigating with sucralfate, a prescription drug used to treat ulcers.

It seems that the honey can coat the battery and help it slide through the esophagus into the stomach while also neutralizing the pH to prevent a chemical burn.

Related: 50 important child safety tips every parent needs to know

“We explored a variety of common household and medicinal liquid options, and our study showed that honey and sucralfate demonstrated the most protective effects against button battery injury, making the injuries more localized and superficial,” says co-author Kris R. Jatana, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist and Director of Pediatric Otolaryngology Quality Improvement at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in a press release. “The findings of our study are going to be put immediately into clinical practice, incorporated into the latest National Capital Poison Center Guidelines for management of button battery ingestions.”

“Our recommendation would be for parents and caregivers to give honey at regular intervals before a child is able to reach a hospital, while clinicians in a hospital setting can use sucralfate before removing the battery,” co-principal investigator Ian N. Jacobs, M.D., director of the Center for Pediatric Airway Disorders at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), said in a news release

Honey generally shouldn’t be offered to babies under 12 months of age due to a small risk of botulism. And while helpful, experts also say that you shouldn’t stop at the store to buy honey on your way to the hospital if you don’t have it at home. 

“[Honey is] useful for preventing the progression of the injury,” Jacobs said to TODAY Parents. “The most important thing is to get to a hospital that takes care of children as soon as possible. There should be no delay.”