Lead poisoning is a threat to many children
Because the symptoms of lead poisoning often are subtle, all young children need to be tested.
Children who have high lead levels need medical treatment. The source of the lead must be found and removed.
Lead-based paint is the main source of lead poisoning in children. Lead-based paint can be found inside and outside of older homes, especially those built before 1978.
Children often are exposed to lead by eating bits of cracked or peeling paint, or by breathing or eating house dust containing lead. (Lead in dust usually comes from lead-based paint.) Lesser sources of lead include soil, lead solder on pipes, lead-based gasoline and lead-based plumbing solder.
Children and adults often are exposed to lead when an older home is being remodeled. As layers of old paint are sanded from a wall, a fine dust is given off. This dust may contain dangerous levels of lead, which can be absorbed into the body.
Ask for advice before your remodel, or before you remove layers of paint from walls or furniture. Talk to a professional painter or to your local health department.
A child absorbs lead in the body more quickly than an adult. This means that the same amount of lead will cause more harm to a child than to an adult. Lead can cause a child to be lethargic (tired) or overactive. It also can cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, behavior changes and attention loss.
A child with a low-level lead exposure may have mild symptoms or no symptoms. But a small amount of lead can greatly affect a child's intelligence and ability to learn. Teachers and parents should consider lead poisoning as a cause of a child's learning problems.
Children with higher levels of lead in their bodies may have seizures, bizarre behavior, poor coordination, vomiting and altered states of alertness.
Screening recommended for all children under the age of 6.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all children under the age of 6 be screened each year for lead poisoning. Children in this age group are more likely to put things in their mouth and, therefore, are at higher risk for lead poisoning.
The screening involves a simple finger poke to obtain a blood sample for testing. This test may be offered by your family doctor, or contact your local health department.
In severe cases of lead poisoning, medical treatment is needed.
In mild cases, the primary treatment is to remove the source of lead. Parents also need to watch young children to prevent them from putting paint chips (or other harmful things) in their mouths.
Parents of a child exposed to low levels of lead should reduce the amount of fat in the child's diet. They also should increase the child's intake of iron, calcium and protein. These nutrients help to inhibit the absorption of lead in the body.
If you have questions, contact your pediatrician or the Wisconsin Poison Center.