signs of lead poisoning in a child
Learn about the signs and causes of lead poisoning in children, and how to prevent lead exposure

Young children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer serious health problems after repeated exposure to things that contain lead.

Lead affects the development of the brain and nervous system. High-dose lead exposure may not cause symptoms right away, but when they do appear, they can be severe. The most common signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:

What causes lead poisoning?

Major sources of children’s exposure to lead include any products that contain lead, such as:

  • Gasoline
  • Lead-based paints and pigments
  • Lead solder in food cans
  • Ceramic glazes
  • Drinking-water systems with lead solder and lead pipes
  • Herbal and traditional medicines, cosmetics, and toys that contain lead
  • Incineration of lead-containing waste
  • Electronic waste (e-waste)

How is lead poisoning treated?

The first step in treating lead poisoning is to remove the source of the contamination. For children with relatively low lead levels, simply avoiding exposure to lead might be enough to reduce lead levels in the blood. 

Treatment for higher levels of lead in the blood include:

  • Chelation therapy: The child is given an oral medication that binds with the lead so that it's excreted through urine. Chelation therapy may be recommended for children with a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater and adults with high blood levels of lead or symptoms of lead poisoning.
  • EDTA chelation therapy: This is recommended when lead levels are greater than 45 mcg/dL in the blood and for children who cannot tolerate the drug used in conventional chelation therapy. This therapy most commonly uses a chemical called calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) and is given by injection.

How to prevent lead poisoning

It’s important to take steps to prevent your child’s exposure to lead. Simple steps include keeping your home clean and well-maintained. Other steps may include:

  • Inspecting and maintaining all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration.
  • Addressing water damage quickly and thoroughly.
  • Keeping the home clean and dust-free. Household dust from deteriorating lead-based paint or contaminated soil can be major sources of lead exposure for children.
  • Letting the water run to flush the tap, using only cold water to prepare food and drinks, and using a water filter. Lead in older pipes can leach into drinking water.
  • Teaching children to keep their hands and toys out of their mouths and to wash their hands frequently.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/24/2021
References
World Health Organization. Childhood Lead Poisoning. https://www.who.int/ceh/publications/leadguidance.pdf

American Academy of Pediatrics. Lead Exposure in Children. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/lead-exposure/Pages/Lead-Exposure-in-Children.aspx

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent Children’s Exposure to Lead. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/leadpoisoning/index.html