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Please see below for information on frequently asked questions about lead poisoning, including testing, prevention, and long-term effects.
The only way to check for lead poisoning is to do a blood test. If you suspect that your child has been exposed to lead, visit your child's doctor to have a blood test done.
It is recommended that all children be tested at 12 and 24 months of age. Any child 3 to 6 years of age who has not been tested before should also receive testing. Additionally, adults who may have been exposed to lead should be tested, especially pregnant or breastfeeding women. Contact us for more information about blood lead testing.

Most children with lead poisoning will have no obvious symptoms or the symptoms are generally vague. Noticeable symptoms do not usually appear until a child has a relatively high level of lead in the body; however, even low levels of lead can lead to permanent health problems that affect learning and behavior long after lead exposure has occurred. This is the reason routine testing at 12 and 24 months of age is so important. Acute symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of recently acquired skills
  • Seizures

Continued exposure to lead can result in permanent intellectual disability, coma, or even death.

Lead can be inhaled in lead fumes or dust, or it can be swallowed in the form of dust, paint chips, lead fishing weights, and other common household items. Taking in a large amount of lead or being exposed to small amounts of lead over time can cause lead to build up in the body.

Even after the blood lead level returns to normal, health problems can still occur. This is especially true for young children who are exposed to lead during a time of rapid brain development. Long-term health effects include:

  • Developmental delay
  • Learning difficulties
  • Lower IQ
  • Shortened attention span
  • Hyperactivity
  • Behavior problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Slowed growth

Children, especially young children, put non-food items in their mouths. Wash toys and pacifiers frequently to reduce lead exposure from these items. Also, teach your child good hand washing habits, especially after playing and before eating.

A well-balanced diet can reduce your child's risk of lead poisoning. Serve regular meals and snacks which include calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, and greens, as well as iron-rich foods like beef, chicken, iron-fortified cereal, green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, and beans. These nutrients help the body to absorb less lead. In addition, provide foods high in Vitamin C, like oranges, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, and cantaloupe, with meals to improve iron absorption, and limit foods high in fat.

If lead dust is present in your home, your child may breathe it in or put it in their mouth on hands or toys. Reduce lead dust by damp dusting and mopping at least twice a week. Do not dry dust since it can increase the amount of lead in the air you breathe.

If your home was built before 1978, it may contain lead paint. If the paint is chipping or peeling, your child may eat it due to its sweet taste. It is important that any chips or flakes be cleaned up immediately and safely discarded in a sealed plastic bag. In addition to cleaning, block access to any areas with damaged paint using furniture, duct tape, or contact paper. Have the damaged areas repainted as soon as possible, preferably using a certified lead contractor to complete the work. At no time should you scrape or sand lead paint since this can further spread lead dust in your home.

Depending on your water source and home faucets, there could be lead in your water. Use sterile water to prepare formula instead of tap water. When tap water must be used for cooking, run cold water for at least one minute to flush any lead picked up from the pipes first. Boiling tap water will not remove the 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 a child chelation therapy. This treatment uses a special type of medicine that combines with lead and makes it easier for the body to remove it.

Children less than 6 years of age who spend time in homes built before 1978 with chipping or peeling paint are at the greatest risk for lead poisoning. Pregnant women and their unborn babies are also at a higher risk for lead poisoning. Growing babies and young children absorb more lead, and their developing brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects. Other factors that put someone at risk for lead poisoning include:

  • Living or spending time in a home built before 1950
  • Living or spending time in a home built before 1978 which is undergoing renovation
  • Working with lead or living with a family member who works with lead on the job or as a hobby
  • Having a sibling or playmate diagnosed with lead poisoning
  • Living near a lead smelter, battery recycling plant, or other industry likely to release atmospheric lead
  • Being a recent immigrant, refugee, or foreign adoptee
  • Using traditional, folk, or ethnic remedies and cosmetics or informally imported food from abroad

Children are at greater risk because their bodies absorb lead more easily. A child's quickly growing brain and body can be harmed by even small amounts of lead. It is 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 dust. Even toys and food that have fallen on the floor can be coated with lead dust.

Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. The key to prevention is identifying and removing lead hazards before exposure can occur. By testing children at 12 and 24 months of age, or anytime that lead exposure is suspected, lead exposure can be identified and eliminated before the long-term health effects of lead poisoning become apparent. For additional information, read more tips for lead poisoning prevention.

Page last updated: May 23, 2024