How can I tell if my child has lead poisoning?

The only way to know if a person has too much lead in his/her body is to do a blood test. The symptoms of lead poisoning are generally vague or they may not be present at all. If you suspect that your child has been exposed to lead, visit your local health department clinic or your physician to have a blood test done. Adults who may have been exposed to lead should also be tested.

Which children need to be tested?

Children should be tested at 12 and 24 months if the answer to one or more of the following questions is “yes" or if there is any reason to suspect that lead exposure occurred.

  • Does the child receive Medicaid or WIC benefits?
  • Does the child live in or visit a home built before 1950?
  • Does the child live in or visit a home built before 1978 that is undergoing renovation?
  • Does the child have a sibling or playmate diagnosed with lead poisoning?

Contact your local health department or the Alabama Department of Public Health at (334) 206-2966 or 1-800-LEAD-FYI to find out how you can have your child tested.

How do you get lead poisoning?

Lead can be inhaled in lead fumes or dust or it can be swallowed. If you take in a small amount of lead, your body can remove it without having any negative consequences, but taking in a large amount of lead or being exposed to small amounts of lead over time can cause higher levels of lead than your body can handle. Lead poisoning occurs when too much lead builds up in the body.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

Symptoms of lead poisoning do not appear until a child is very ill. That is why it is important to have children tested for high levels of lead. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of recently acquired skills
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Lack of energy
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Trouble sleeping

What are some of the problems that lead poisoning causes?

Problems that lead poisoning causes include:

  • Lower IQ’s
  • Shortened attention spans
  • Hyperactivity/irritability
  • Behavior problems
  • Reading/learning problems
  • Hearing/growth problems
  • Anemia

Is my child's diet important?

Yes, a well-balanced diet is very important. Serve calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt and greens. Serve iron-rich foods like beef, chicken, iron-fortified cereal, green leafy vegetables, dried fruits and beans to help the body absorb less lead. Provide foods rich in Vitamin C with meals to improve iron absorption. Serve regular meals and snacks. Limit foods high in fats. Foods with a lot of fat or oils make it easier for the body to absorb lead.

What do I do if my child has high blood levels of lead?

The best way to reduce blood lead levels is to prevent further exposure to lead. However, if the levels are very high, a doctor may decide that it is necessary to give the child chelation. This is a special type of medicine that combines with lead and makes it easier for the body to remove it.

What are the effects of lead on the body?

Lead poisoning may not cause any symptoms until the lead levels are very high and the child is very sick. Continued exposure to high levels of lead may result in permanent intellectual disability, convulsions, coma or even death.

Who is at risk?

Children under six years of age spending time in homes built before 1978, with chipping or peeling paint, are at greatest risk. Pregnant women and unborn babies are also at risk. Growing babies absorb more lead. The developing brain and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

Why are children at a higher risk?

It is very normal for young children to put things in their mouths. Eating lead paint chips and lead dust is a very common cause of lead poisoning in young children.

Young children are also very active and like to explore. A child can crawl on the floor and reach windows, walls, railings, or doors. All of these areas can be sources of peeling and chipping lead-based paint or leaded dust. Even toys and food that have fallen on the floor can be coated with lead dust.

Children also run a greater risk because their bodies absorb the lead more easily. A child's quickly growing body can be harmed by even small amounts of lead.

Can lead poisoning be prevented?

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.

  • Lead hazards in a child’s environment must be removed.
  • The public and health care professionals should be educated about lead poisoning and how to prevent it.
  • Children who are at risk of lead poisoning should be tested and treated if indicated.
  • Read more tips for lead poisoning prevention.

Page last updated: November 7, 2018