What is lead? Lead is a chemical element and heavy metal with a high toxicity level. It is bluish-white in color and can be found anywhere from paint to toys. Its also a naturally occurring product of the Earth so it can be easily found in water, soil, and dust.
What is lead poisoning? Lead is not normally found in the human body and there is no way for the body to produce lead naturally. Lead poisoning occurs when too much lead gets stored in the body. It enters the body usually through eating and breathing. When lead enters the body it is stored in the bones and other parts of the body. The body mistakes lead for iron and releases lead throughout the body and affects nearly every system. Lead poisoning usually does not show but in kids it might be the cause for the development of learning and behavior problems. There is currently no way to effectively treat lead exposure. The best thing you can do for yourself and/or your child is to remove the source of lead from your home. For more serious cases chelation therapy is used.
How do children get lead poisoning? Children are more susceptible to the effects of lead exposure because their body and brain is still developing. They are at the most risk because they spend a lot of their time on the floor and explore the world with their hands and mouths. Their exposure to lead can occur slowly or quickly depending how they are exposed.
Which items can cause lead poisoning in a child?
- Lead-contaminated toys, jewelry, and candy
- Lead-contaminated soil or dust.
- Imported or handmade pottery and tableware that uses a leaded glaze.
- Folk remedies
- Imported food in cans that are sealed with lead solder.
- Lead paint
How does lead harm a child? Even small amounts of lead harm children. At low levels of exposure, children may have behavior problems, and get angry and frustrated easily. They have a hard time learning new things, and may develop Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and have trouble succeeding in school .At high levels, lead poisoning can cause headaches, hearing loss, brain damage, anemia, coma and even death. Lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system and brain when they are still forming, which may result in permanent loss of intelligence.
Can lead poisoning be treated? Once lead is in the body, the damage it causes cannot be reversed. Chelation therapy, for children with very high lead levels, will only lower those levels. It will not repair the damage already done. Chelation therapy is only used when blood lead levels are very high. The best way to prevent lead poisoning is to have your child tested and keep him or her from coming into contact with lead-contaminated objects.
Is my child in danger of lead poisoning? All children are at risk of lead poisoning.
Wouldn’t I know if my child had lead poisoning? No. Children with lead poisoning often look and act normal.
How do I have my child tested? Your child’s doctor will be able to test your child for lead. Some doctors in Nevada do not know that lead is a problem here and may not offer the test to you. Insist that your child be tested for lead. A blood test is the only way to know if your child may have been exposed. Most insurance companies cover the cost of lead screenings for children.
When should I have my child tested? All children need to be tested at 12 months and 24 months of age. If your child is already between 3 and 6 years of age and hasn’t been tested, they should be tested as well.
Can lead poisoning be spread to other people? No.
What else can I do to protect my child?
- Watch what your child is doing
- Wash hands, fruits and vegetables before eating and monitor your diet
- This includes: toys, pets, vents and removing shoes
- Do not give children imported candy or snacks
- Feed your child regular meals with a diet high in calcium, iron, and vitamin C and low in fat.
- Be aware of lead levels in the water and soil
- Make sure your home is clean and your vents and filters are maintained and changed
- Filter the water you drink
- Run the water cold and don’t use tap water for baby formula or cooking
- Do not give your children any home remedies unless approved by your child’s pediatrician.
This publication was supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number, 1 NUE2EH001366-01-00, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.
Page last reviewed: May 24, 2018
Page last updated: May 24, 2018