Lead poisoning happens when too much lead gets into the body through the skin or
from breathing, eating, or drinking. When lead gets in the body, it can travel and
cause harm wherever it ends up.
Who Gets Lead Poisoning?
Lead is toxic to everyone, but unborn babies and young children (6 months to 3
years) are at greatest risk for health problems from lead poisoning. Young children
absorb lead more easily than older kids and adults, and lead is more harmful to them.
Kids at risk for lead poisoning include those who:
immigrate to the US or are adopted from a foreign country without regulations
for use of lead
have pica (cravings
to eat things like dirt and paint chips)
Why Is Lead Harmful?
Lead can harm production of blood cells and the absorption of calcium
needed for strong bones
and teeth, muscle movements, and the work of nerves and blood vessels.
High lead levels can cause brain and kidney damage.
How Do Children Get Lead Poisoning?
The most common way that kids get lead poisoning is from lead-based paint. This
type of paint was used in many U.S. homes until the late 1970s, when the government
banned the manufacturing of paint containing lead.
Kids also can come into contact with lead through:
soil found near busy streets and around homes that were painted with lead-based
water that flows through old lead pipes or faucets
food stored in bowls glazed or painted with lead, or imported from countries that
use lead to seal canned food
some toys, jewelry, hobby, and sports objects (like stained glass, ink, paint,
some home remedies, such as greta and azarcon (used to treat an upset stomach)
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Lead Poisoning?
Some children have no signs of being sick. Others may have symptoms like:
A simple blood test can diagnose lead poisoning. Doctors get the blood by pricking
the finger or putting a small needle into a vein. Blood tests to check for lead in
the body should be done when kids are 1 and 2 years old.
How Is Lead Poisoning Treated?
Treatment for lead poisoning depends on how much lead is in the blood. The most
important part of treatment is preventing more exposure to lead. A child with a small
amount of lead often can be treated easily. As the body naturally gets rid of the
lead, the level of lead in the blood falls.
Kids with severe cases and extremely high lead levels in their blood will be hospitalized
to get a medicine called a chelator. The chelator attaches to the lead and makes the
lead weaker so the body can get rid of it naturally.
Calcium, iron, and vitamin C are important parts of a healthy diet and also help
to decrease the amount of lead the body absorbs. Your doctor may recommend your child
take supplements if there's not enough in his or her diet.
How Can We Protect Our Family?
To help protect your kids from lead poisoning by:
Keep your home lead-free. Ask your local health department about having your home
checked for lead sources.
Ask your doctor about having your kids tested for lead exposure. If a child has
lead poisoning, all siblings should be tested.
Be wary of old plumbing that might be lined with lead. If you have an old plumbing
system (in homes built before 1970), which used copper pipes and lead solder, you
may want to get your water tested. Call your local health department or water department
to find a laboratory that will test your water for lead content.
If the water from the cold faucet has not been run for several hours, let cold
water run for 30 seconds before drinking it. And because hot water absorbs more lead
than cold water, don't use hot tap water for meals.
Wash your kids' hands and toys often, and keep dusty surfaces clean with a wet
Make sure that iron and calcium are in your diets. If kids are exposed to lead,
good nutrition can reduce the amount absorbed by their bodies. Eating regular meals
is helpful because lead is absorbed more during periods of fasting.
Know where your kids play. Keep them away from busy roads and the underside of