Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Lead Poisoning in
What problems does lead cause?
High lead levels in the body can cause problems
with the brain, kidneys and bone marrow (the soft tissue inside bones). Symptoms
of high lead levels can include belly pain, headaches, vomiting, confusion,
muscle weakness, seizures, hair loss and anemia (a low red blood cell count).
Lower levels of lead in the body can still cause
problems, like trouble paying attention, behavior problems, learning
difficulties and a fall in the IQ of young children. (IQ stands for
"intelligence quotient" and is one measure of how smart a person is.)
In what ways are children exposed to
More than 4 percent of children in the United
States have lead poisoning. Rates of lead poisoning are even higher in large
cities and among people with low incomes.
The most common cause of lead poisoning today is
old paint with lead in it. Lead has not been used in house paint since 1978.
However, many older houses and apartment buildings (especially those built
before 1960) have lead-based paint on their walls.
Toddlers explore their world by putting things
in their mouths. Therefore, young children who live in older buildings are at
especially high risk of getting lead poisoning. Children can get lead poisoning
by chewing on pieces of peeling paint or by swallowing house dust or soil that
contains tiny chips of the leaded paint from these buildings. Lead can also be
in air, water and food. Lead levels in the air have gone down greatly since lead
was taken out of gasoline in the 1970s. Lead is still found in some old water
pipes, although using lead solder to mend or put together water pipes is no
longer allowed in the United States. Lead can also be found in food or juice
stored in foreign-made cans or improperly fired ceramic containers.
How can I lower the risk that my
child will get lead poisoning?
Here are some things you can do to lower your
family's risk of lead poisoning:
- If you live in a house or an apartment built
before 1978, ask your doctor about blood lead testing for your child and keep
your child away from peeling paint. The peeling paint needs to be removed from
all surfaces up to 5 feet above the floor. It is also a good idea to repaint the
rooms to seal in the lead paint.
- If you're remodeling an old home, seal off the
rooms that are being worked on. For example, put heavy sheets of plastic over
doorways and windows of the work area.
- If there's a problem with lead poisoning in the
area where you live, or if a lot of older houses in your neighborhood are being
remodeled, have your family wipe their feet and take their shoes off before they
come into your home. This will lower the chance of tracking soil with lead in it
into your home.
- Wash your child's hands and face before meals.
To get more information about
what else you can do to lower your family's exposure to lead, talk to your
doctor or call your local health department (the number is in the phone book).
What will my doctor do if my child's
blood has a high level of lead?
During well-child checkups for your baby,
toddler or preschooler, your doctor will ask you questions to see if there is a
chance that your child might get lead poisoning. The doctor might test your
child's blood for lead. If your child's blood lead level is above the acceptable
range, your doctor will give you information on how you can lower your child's
lead level. Your doctor will then test your child's blood lead level every few
months until the level drops into the normal range. Fortunately, only a small
number of babies and children have high enough levels of lead in their blood
that they need treatment. If your child's blood lead level is very high, your
doctor will treat your child with medicine to lower the amount of lead in the
If one or more of your children has high blood
lead levels, your doctor will call your local health department. Persons from
the health department can help by inspecting your home for old peeling paint and
getting workers to remove the paint or cover it with new paint.