What is lead poisoning?
Lead is a highly toxic metal and a very strong poison. Lead
poisoning is a serious and sometimes fatal condition. It occurs when lead
builds up in the body.
Lead is found in lead-based paints, including paint on the
walls of old houses and toys. It is also found in:
products sold outside of the United States and Canada
Lead poisoning usually occurs over a period of months or years.
It can cause severe mental and physical impairment. Young children are most
Children get lead in their bodies by putting the lead
containing objects in their mouths. Touching the lead and then putting their
fingers in their mouths may also poison them. Lead is more harmful to children
because their brains and nervous systems are still developing.
Lead poisoning can be treated, but any damage caused cannot
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Symptoms of lead poisoning are varied. They may affect many
parts of the body. Most of the time, lead poisoning builds up slowly. It
follows repeated exposures to small quantities of lead.
Lead toxicity is rare after a single exposure or ingestion
Signs of repeated lead exposure include:
of developmental skills in children
or tingling in the extremities
Since a child’s brain is still developing, lead can lead to intellectual
disability. Symptoms may include:
grades at school
and long-term learning difficulties
A high, toxic dose of lead poisoning may result in emergency
symptoms. These include:
- severe abdominal pain and cramping
- muscle weakness
- stumbling when walking
- encephalopathy, which manifests as confusion,
coma, and seizures
If someone has symptoms of severe lead exposure, call
emergency medical services. Be sure to have the following information ready to
tell the emergency operator:
source of the poisoning
time the poisoning occurred
In nonemergency situations, call poison control to discuss
lead poisoning symptoms. They will let you speak with an expert.
What causes lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning occurs when lead is ingested. Breathing in
dust that contains lead can also cause it. You cannot smell or taste lead and
it’s not visible to the naked eye.
In the United States, lead used to be common in house paint
and gasoline. These products are not produced with lead any longer. However,
lead is still present everywhere. It is especially found in older houses.
Common sources of lead include:
paint made before 1978
and household items painted before 1976
made and painted outside the United States
curtain weights, and fishing sinkers made of lead
and sink faucets, which can contaminate drinking water
polluted by car exhaust or chipping house paint
sets and art supplies
pottery, and lead figures
or kajal eyeliners
traditional ethnic medicines
Who is at risk for lead
Children are at the highest risk of lead poisoning,
especially if they live in old houses with chipping paint. This is because
children are prone to putting objects and fingers in their mouths.
People in developing countries are also at a higher risk. Many
countries do not have strict rules regarding lead. If you adopt a child from a
developing country, their lead levels should be checked.
is lead poisoning diagnosed?
Lead poisoning is diagnosed with a blood lead test. This
test is performed on a standard blood sample.
Lead is common in the environment. The National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reports that no amount of lead
in the blood is safe. It is known that levels as low as 5 micrograms per
deciliter can be associated with health problems in children.
Additional tests could include blood tests to look at the
amount of iron storing cells in the blood, X-rays, and possibly a bone marrow
How is lead poisoning
The first step of treatment is to locate and remove the
source of the lead. Keep children away from the source. If it cannot be
removed, it should be sealed. Call your local health department for information
on how to remove lead. They can also help you reduce the likelihood of lead
In more severe cases, a procedure known as chelation therapy
can be used. This treatment binds to lead that has accumulated in your body.
The lead is then excreted in your urine.
Activated charcoal can be used to bind the lead in the
gastrointestinal tract and encourage elimination via defecation. A chemical
called EDTA may also be used
Even with treatment, it can be hard to reverse the effects
of chronic exposure.
is the outlook for lead poisoning?
Adults with moderate exposure usually recover without any
In children, recovery can take time. Even low lead exposure
can cause permanent intellectual disability.
How can lead poisoning be prevented?
Simple steps can help you prevent lead poisoning. These
or throw away painted toys and canned goods from foreign countries.
your home free from dust.
only cold water to prepare foods and drinks.
sure everyone washes their hands before eating.
your water for lead. If lead levels are high, use a filtering device or drink
faucets and aerators regularly.
children’s toys and bottles regularly.
your children to wash their hands after playing.
sure any contractor doing work in your house is certified in lead control.
lead-free paint in your home.
young children for blood lead level screening at their pediatrician’s office.
This is usually done around 1 to 2 years of age.
areas where lead-based paint may have been used.
If you have any questions regarding the safe removal of
lead, the following resources can help:
and Urban Development (HUD): 800-RID-LEAD
Information Center: 800-LEAD-FYI
Lead Information Center: 800-424-5323