Lead Poisoning in Children
Representing families in New Hampshire & Vermont
Though severe lead poisoning in children is now rare, in the United Sates alone more than 310,000 children are found to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood each year. Van Dorn, Curtiss, Rousseau & Ross, PLLC intends the information below as a basic guide and will cover the most frequently asked questions about lead poisoning in children. Young children should always be tested for lead. Please see your doctor if you have any suspicions about lead poisoning in your child or yourself.
What Are the Signs of Lead Poisoning in Children?
The levels of lead in the bloodstream dictate the severity of the signs of lead poisoning.
Higher levels of lead can cause the following symptoms:
- Stomachache, diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation
- Persistent fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Abdominal pain
Some of the more subtle signs may occur with lower levels of lead in the body.
- Irritability or aggressiveness
- Hyperactivity or impulsiveness
- Learning impairment
- Developmental delays
- Lack of interest in play
- Loss of appetite
- Pale skin from anemia
- Pica (eating dirt, paint, and other non-food items)
- Weight loss
How Does a Doctor Diagnose Lead Poisoning in Children?
At check-ups, parents are required to fill out a survey concerning their child's health. Some of the questions attempt to find out if the child is at a higher risk of lead poisoning than normal. In this way, children are screened for possible lead poisoning, rather than testing every child. However, you may request a blood test even if you do not fall into the high risk category.
Diagnosing lead poisoning begins with drawing blood from the patient. A small sample may be taken from the finger or a vein. Lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). The CDC guidelines concerning lead state that any lead level over 10 mcg/dL is unsafe.
Elevated lead levels are categorized in the following way:
- Class I: less than 10 mcg/dL
- Class II-A: 10 to 14 mcg/dL
- Class II-B: 15-19 mcg/dL
- Class III: 20 to 44 mcg/dL
- Class IV: 45 to 69 mcg/dL
What Treatments Are Used on Children Suffering from Lead Poisoning?
Treating lead poisoning begins conservatively. If possible, the source of lead is identified and safely removed or the child is moved away from the source. In addition, ensuring that the child eats a balanced diet can help curb the effects of lead poisoning. A balanced diet that contains adequate levels of vitamin C, calcium, and iron will help prevent the absorption of lead into the body.
If these measures do not reduce the levels of lead in a child, medical intervention may be necessary. Chelation therapy is sometimes used to reduce the amount of stored lead in the body. Chelating agents are usually administered through an IV and work by binding to the lead. The agent and the lead are eliminated from the body through the urine. The child's environment must be completely free of lead as the chelating agents increase the body's absorption of lead and other metals.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Lead Poisoning in Children?
Long term effects of lead on children can be hard to pinpoint. However, the New England Journal of Medicine did a study on the long term effects of exposure to low levels of lead. The original study was followed by an 11-year reexamination of the original study participants.
In the group with original higher lead levels there was a significant increase in:
- Learning disabilities
- Lower vocabulary and grammatical reasoning scores
- Poorer hand eye coordination
- Longer reaction times
- Slower finger tapping
Other long-term effects of lead poisoning in children include:
- Decreased bone and muscle growth
- Poor muscle coordination
- Damage to nervous system, kidneys and hearing
- Speech and language problems
- Developmental delays
- Seizure disorders
Preventing Lead Poisoning in Children
Among other things, New England is known for its stunning scenery and beautiful old buildings. However, living in an older home may increase your family's chance of being exposed to lead. Though lead poisoning is scary and all too common in young children, there are ways to prevent lead poisoning.
Some of the top tips for lead poisoning prevention in children include:
- Get your child tested for lead. A blood test is the only reliable way to detect lead levels in your child. Getting a child tested can prevent further lead poisoning.
- Keep on top of lead and other recalls by signing up for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) e-mail alerts.
- Another site that can help keep you informed is run by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Their lead recalls page is updated often and lists every product that has been recalled due to high lead levels.
- Avoid toys that have metallic finishes, are purchased from vending machines, or have small parts that may be swallowed. Swallowing a lead-tainted toy or piece of jewelry often leads to lead poisoning.
- If you live in a home that was built before 1972 be sure to check for peeling or chipping paint. Paint manufactured before 1972 contained high levels of lead. Children may eat the paint as it is sweet to the taste.
- If you have painted furniture or children's toys, ensure that the paint is not peeling or chipping.
- Test for lead before doing any remodeling, particularly before you sand or make repairs to walls or ceilings.
- Ensure that your entire family washes their hands often. Frequent hand-washing can help prevent your child from ingesting or absorbing lead.
- Dust and clean floors at least once a week. Dust tainted by lead may float through the air. As it settles a child may come in contact with the lead. Dusting with a wet rag and keeping floors clean and dust free can help lower this risk.