Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning occurs when lead accumulates, often over a period of months or years, in the body. Lead poisoning can be very dangerous to children younger than 6; it can severely affect their mental and physical development. Children may be exposed to lead from lead-based paint that was used in older homes or buildings, or from contact with lead in the air, water, soil or food. Lead poisoning can lead to a variety of health problems in children and, in very high levels, can be fatal. It is recommended that children between the ages of 1 and 2 are tested for lead.

Signs and Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

In some cases, there are no specific symptoms of lead poisoning. In children, common symptoms of lead poisoning may include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Learning difficulties
  • Hearing loss
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation

While lead poisoning is more often a concern for children, adults with lead poisoning may also experience high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, memory loss and mood disorders. In pregnant women, high levels of lead poisoning may cause miscarriage or premature birth.

Lead Poisoning Testing

Doctors commonly perform a simple blood test to measure the levels of lead in the blood. Lead testing is commonly performed when children are 1 or 2 years of age, however, they may be tested more often if they are at a higher risk of developing lead poisoning.

Treatment of Lead Poisoning

Treatment for lead poisoning depends on the level of lead in the blood. For children with relatively low lead levels, simply avoiding exposure to lead is often sufficient enough to reduce the levels of lead in the blood. Treatments for high levels of lead poisoning include:

  • Chelation therapy
  • EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) treatment

In severe cases of lead poisoning, it sometimes may not be possible to reverse damage that has already occurred.

Lead Poisoning Prevention

To prevent lead poisoning, any lead should be removed from the environment. If it cannot be removed, it should be sealed. Additional ways to reduce lead exposure in homes that may contain lead, include:

  • Cleaning the house regularly to remove lead dust
  • Washing children's toys to remove lead dust
  • Prevent children from playing on bare soil surfaces
  • Removing access to peeling paint or surfaces painted with lead based paint
  • Reducing exposure to sources of lead in the home

In homes that have older plumbing containing lead pipes or fittings, running the cold water from the faucet for a minute before using, can help to flush out any lead particles. The best way to protect children from lead poisoning is to ensure that the home is lead-free. Parents should contact their local health department for recommendations about having their homes evaluated for lead sources.

Additional Resources