Lead Poisoning

Children can become very ill -- and can have permanent health effects -- after being poisoned by lead.
Although you wouldn't deliberately feed your child lead, it is still present in many places. Lead once was commonly used in paints. It went onto the walls and woodwork in many homes and 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 sometimes is found in tap water. Drinking water or other liquids from a cup or bowl that has been painted with lead-based glaze or that was made from clay containing lead can give a person lead poisoning. Pewter dishes and vessels may contain lead, which can leach into foods and fluids; these dishes should not be used for food or drink.
Lead gets into your body when you eat, drink or breathe something that has lead in it. Infants and very young children are at especially high risk for several reasons: They learn about the world in part by putting things in their mouths, and they are more sensitive than adults to the toxic effects of lead. Lead paint has a sweet taste, and infants and young children may eat or chew the bars of their crib or pieces of flaking paint if it contains lead. Many items in their environment may be contaminated by lead dust. 
Lead accumulates in the body and is harmful to body tissues and enzymes. Lead poisoning causes serious health problems, but most critically, brain damage. Children who chronically ingest small amounts of lead can be poisoned and become extremely ill -- or even die.
Lead poisoning is hard to detect at first, because the symptoms are not obvious. Even children who seem to be healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies. Usually, lead builds up in the body gradually.
Symptoms of lead poisoning can also be symptoms of other conditions.

Symptoms include:
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Tired, lethargic behaviour
  • Behavioural changes
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Confusion
When the level of lead in the body becomes greater, more extreme symptoms may be seen, including:
  • Twitching and shaking
  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Paralysis
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma

Lead poisoning usually happens gradually over time, not in one incident. If you think there is a possibility that your child has lead poisoning, see your doctor as soon as possible. If the lead exposure continues, your child may suffer permanent damage.
Medication is available to help remove lead from the body, but the most important thing you can do is to stop your child's exposure to lead by following the prevention steps listed below.
  • 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 or she plays outside (there may be lead contamination in the soil), before eating and before going to bed.
  • If you have lead paint, 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.