Children who continually ingest small amounts of lead can be poisoned. Lead builds up in the body and is harmful to body tissues and enzymes. Lead poisoning causes serious health problems, including brain damage and death.
Lead once was commonly used in paints. It went onto the walls and woodwork in many homes. It was even used to paint toys for many decades. If your home was built before 1978, it could have lead-based paint on its surfaces. Lead also was used in plumbing, and is sometimes found in tap water.
Lead poisoning can also be caused from drinking water or other liquids from a cup or bowl that has been painted with lead-based glaze. Do not use cups or bowls for food or drinks that are made from clay containing lead or pewter dishes and vessels which may contain lead.
Who is most at risk?
Lead gets into your body when you eat, drink or breathe something that has lead in it. Infants and young children are most at risk because they learn by putting things in their mouths and are more sensitive than adults to the toxic effects of lead.
Lead paint has a sweet taste so infants and young children may chew the bars of their crib. They may also eat or chew pieces of flaking lead-based paint. Many items in their environment may be contaminated by lead dust.
Symptoms of lead poisoning
Lead poisoning is hard to detect at first, because the symptoms are not specific. Lead builds up in the body gradually, even children who seem to be healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Tired, lethargic behaviour
- Behavioural changes
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Trouble sleeping
When the level of lead in the body becomes greater, more extreme symptoms may be seen, including:
- Twitching and shaking
- Convulsions (seizures)
If you think that your child may have lead poisoning, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Medication is available to help remove lead from the body, but more importantly, you should stop your child's exposure to lead.
- Have your home checked by a professional to see where there may be lead hazards.
- If you have lead in your home, lead abatement experts can recommend cleaning products that will help get rid of the lead in dust.
- Make sure your child's hands are washed after he/she plays outside (there may be lead contamination in the soil), before eating and before going to bed.
- If you have lead paint in your home, carefully paint over it with lead-free paint.
- Be careful about canned food products from other countries. Lead is not allowed in cans made in the United States but can still be found in some cans from other countries.
- If you use older toys or cribs, make sure you have the paint on them tested for lead.
- Ensure that your child has a nutritious diet. Children with adequate levels of calcium, zinc and other elements absorb less lead.