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Lead Poisoning: Prevention and Screening

How can lead hurt my child?

All children are at a risk for developing lead poisoning, but it is the most preventable when it comes to health problems caused by the environment. Children can be harmed by lead by getting lead dust on their hands or toys and putting their hands in their mouths, breathing in lead dust from old paint, eating chips of old paint or dirt that contain lead, and drinking water from lead pipes. Once lead is in the body, it travels through the bloodstream and is stored in the bones. Lead can remain in the bones for a lifetime. Very high levels of lead in the body may cause kidney problems, anemia, hearing loss, developmental delays, growth problems, and seizures and coma. Most children with high levels of lead in their blood show no obvious symptoms until they reach school age. At that point, some may show learning and behavioral problems. Lead is mostly found in dust and paint chips, homes built before 1950 that need repair or are deteriorating, soil that has lead in it, hobby materials such as stained glass, paints, solders, fishing weights, workplace dust brought home on clothing, older painted toys and antique furniture like cribs, and tap water from lead pipes.

Prevention—what you can do

  • If your home was built before 1950, ask your pediatrician to test your child for lead.
  • If your home was built before 1978, talk to your pediatrician or health department about safe ways to remodel before and work is done.
  • Check your home or apartment for possible lead contamination before moving in.
  • Clean and cover any chalking, flaking, or chipping pain with a new coat of pain, duct tape, or contact paper.
  • Encourage your children to wash their hands frequently, especially before eating.
  • If you work around lead or have hobbies that involved lead, change clothes and shoes before entering your home.
  • Check with your pediatrician or health department to see if your area has a problem with lead in the water.
  • If you have lead pipes, run the first morning tap water for 2 minutes before using it for drinking or cooking. Do no use hot tap water for mixing formula, drinking, or cooking.

The only way to know for sure if your child has been exposed to lead is to have your pediatrician test your child’s blood. Lead screening tests use either a small amount of blood from a finger prick or a larger sample of blood from a vein in the arm. These tests measure the amount of lead in the blood.

Treatment

For children with low levels of lead in their blood, identify and get rid of the sources of lead to avoid future health problems. Children with high levels of lead in their blood usually need to take a drug that binds the lead in the blood and helps the body get rid of it. This treatment is often done in the hospital and usually is given as a series of shots. If the damage is severe, the child may need special schooling and therapy. Talk to your pediatrician about getting a blood test, especially if your child is under 3 years of age.

Information on this site is intended for Angel Kids Pediatrics patients only. Always consult your doctor before beginning, modifying, or discontinuing any treatment plan.

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