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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.
  • Call your local health department for more advice and information about preventing lead poisoning.
  • Ask your doctor about a blood test that checks your child for lead exposure.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., and Robert Brayden, M.D.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2005-04-12
Last reviewed: 2006-02-06
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 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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