Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Concern About Lead Poisoning in Children

Category: Child Care


In a recent issue of Newsweek there is a cover story on lead poisoning in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as several other organizations, are very concerned about the possibility of physical damage from lead poisoning in many of our children and unborn babies in our country.

Lead poisoning occurs primarily from three sources. These include paint, water and soil. Paint, which is the largest threat, contains lead in most buildings built prior to 1980. Even buildings which were painted since then may have lead paint underneath the later paintings. As the new paint peels off some of the lead based paint can also peel off and become ingested by small children who love to put things in their mouth.

Soil around many homes may also contain lead. Kids are constantly playing outdoors and putting their hands in their mouth. Soil is also tracked into the home and gets all over the floor. The child crawling on the floor moves this lead containing soil into their mouth every time they suck their thumbs. This is a good reason to wet mop floors regularly and wash our children's hands often especially before meals.

The third major source of lead is water. Many of the older pipes carrying water to our homes and buildings contain lead. Hot water seems to carry more lead than cold water.

What solution do we have to try to prevent lead poisoning?

The first solution is to change out lead pipes and to use nonlead based paint. The other things include washing our children's hands frequently when they are small and wet mopping our floors frequently. What signs or symptoms do we see with lead poisoning? In the past, we were not too con-cerned except with kids who had very high levels, in the range of 50 micrograms per deciliter. Now there is scientific evidence that levels as low as 10 may cause learning disabilities and other problems including impaired memory, motor skill development and even hearing loss. People should not become alarmed because of the commonness of children having lead levels of 10 or higher. They should certainly become aware of it and screen for it and treat it if necessary. The obvious person to coordinate this is your pediatrician or family doctor and your local health department. If you find that your home is a heavy source of lead, professional home cleaners can remove lead based paint so that the paint does not flake off and become exposed in other parts of the home.

Symptoms of lead poisoning may include subjective things such as lethargy or loss of appetite and irritability. In rare circumstances when the lead level is extremely high even convulsions can occur. In summary, if you have any reason to suspect lead poisoning in your children, talk to your doctor.