Lead Poisoning: Brief Version

What is lead poisoning?

Being around lead too much can cause lead poisoning. A child with lead poisoning may:

  • Have stomach pains.
  • Vomit.
  • Be confused.
  • Have weak muscles.
  • Have seizures.
  • Lose hair.
  • Have anemia.

Some children have no symptoms.

Children who have lead poisoning need to see a doctor and be treated. Even small amounts of lead can cause problems. Lead poisoning causes brain damage that results in:

  • Poor hearing.
  • Problems learning to speak.
  • Other learning problems.

Where does the lead come from?

Lead is most often found in houses built before 1950. These houses were painted with lead-based paint. (This is against the law now.)

When paint chips or peels:

  • Young children can pick up these chips and chew them.
  • They may swallow dust or soil with lead paint in it.

When people remodel or repaint houses built before 1978:

  • This can put the old paint into the dust and soil.
  • Young children put their hands in their mouths, suck their thumbs, and taste everything. This means they have a higher chance of getting lead into their bodies.

Other sources of lead are air, water, food, and toys:

  • There is less lead in the air now because we use unleaded gasoline.
  • There may be lead in some drinking water. In the past, lead was used for water pipes.
  • Lead can sometimes be found in fruit juice or in food stored in lead-glazed pottery.
  • Lead is sometimes found in low-quality toys, trinkets, and crayons.

How can I protect my child?

  • Keep your child away from peeling paint. Peeling paint is common on windowsills.
  • Wash your child’s hands and face before she eats. If your child sucks his thumb or fingers, rinse his hands often.
  • Rinse toys and pacifiers often.
  • Wet-mop your hard surface floors.
  • Close off any rooms you remodel.
  • If you have lead paint on the outside of your house, keep lead dust from being tracked into your house. Put a washable mat at each door. Make sure everyone wipes his or her feet. Ask everyone to take their shoes off before coming into the house.
  • Take out the soil with lead and put in new soil. Plant bushes next to the walls so children cannot play there.
  • Use water from your cold water tap. Let the water run for 2 minutes before you use it. You can have your water tested for lead.
  • Do not store food or drink in pottery that has lead in the glaze.
  • Make sure your child’s diet has plenty of iron and calcium. Both of these minerals make it harder for the body to take in lead.
  • If you work with lead, make sure you shower and change your clothes before spending time with your child.
  • Talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead. Ask them for more advice and information about how to prevent lead poisoning.
  • Ask your doctor about a blood test that checks your child for lead exposure.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books, and by Robert Brayden, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2007-02-20
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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