Lead poisoning happens when your child is affected by high levels of lead exposure. It is also knownas plumbism and saturnism.Lead poisoning is usually caused by eating or drinking (ingesting) lead, but touching or breathing in the toxic metal can also cause it. Lead poisoning is when any detectable amount of lead is found in your child’s blood.
Lead can affect many parts of your child’s body, including their brain, nerves, blood, digestive organs and more. While lead poisoning can affect anyone, it’s especially dangerous in children. Children younger than 6 years are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. It can damage your child’s nervous system, brain and other organs. Lead poisoning can also lead to severe health, learning and behavioral problems, including sudden brain damage and long-term intellectual deficits.
What is lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring poisonous metal found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. It’s a toxic element that can cause serious health effects in humans and animals. Lead is especially dangerous to babies and young children. It can harm them even before they’re born.
Where is lead found?
Lead is most commonly found in lead paint. Children who live in older houses with peeling lead paint or lead pipes are often affected. Lead can also contaminate:
• Herbal remedies or medicines.
• Toys and candies from foreign countries.
• Stained glass.
• Leaded crystal glassware.
• Glazed ceramic ware, including plates, pitchers and cups.
Most of the time, lead poisoning builds up slowly. It follows repeated exposures to small quantities of lead.
Signs of repeated lead exposure include:
• abdominal pain
• abdominal cramps
• aggressive behavior
• sleep problems
• loss of developmental skills in children
• loss of appetite
• high blood pressure
• numbness or tingling in the extremities
• memory loss
• kidney dysfunction
Since a child’s brain is still developing, lead can lead to intellectual disability. Symptoms may include:
• behavior problems
• low IQ
• poor grades at school
• problems with hearing
• short- and long-term learning difficulties
• growth delays
A high, toxic dose of lead poisoning may result in emergency symptoms. These include:
• severe abdominal pain and cramping
• muscle weakness
• stumbling when walking
• encephalopathy, which manifests as confusion, coma, and seizures
Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. It gets into your system through your bloodstream, and your body stores it in your organs, tissues, bones, and teeth.
Following are the main causes of lead poisoning –
• Lead-based paint.
This is the main cause of lead poisoning. The federal government outlawed it for use in new homes in 1978. But it can still be found in older homes.
• Water pipes.
Older homes often have lead pipes. Sometimes brass or copper plumbing fixtures or pipes are welded with lead. Lead can also be found in newer homes if the water service lines are old.
• Imported canned goods.
Some countries still use lead to seal food cans.
Particles from lead-based paint and leaded gasoline can land in the soil and stay there.
You can find lead paint on older toys and those from other countries that haven’t banned it yet.
• Household dust.
It’s a problem for older homes that once had lead paint. But you can bring soil with lead in it into any age home.
Glazes and paint used on pottery, china, and porcelain could contain lead.
• Lead bullets.
This is more likely for people who spend time at a firing range.
• Certain occupations.
People most likely to be exposed to lead or bring it home on their clothes are those who work in auto repair, mining, pipe fitting, battery manufacturing, painting, and construction.
• Paint sets and art supplies.
These paints could also have lead. Check the label.
• Storage batteries.
You might also hear them called lead acid batters. They’re the rechargeable type you’ll find in nonelectric cars.
Tiro, a brand of eye makeup from Nigeria, was linked to lead poisoning.
• Herbal or folk remedies.
The traditional Hispanic medicines greta and azarcon, along with remedies from China, India, and other countries, are tied to lead poisoning.
Candies from Mexico made with tamarind might also contain lead.
Risk factors –
Factors that may increase your risk of lead poisoning include:
Infants and young children are more likely to be exposed to lead than are older children. They might chew paint that flakes off walls and woodwork, and their hands can be contaminated with lead dust.
• Living in an older home.
Although the use of lead-based paints has been banned since the 1970s, older homes and buildings often retain remnants of this paint. People renovating an older home are at even higher risk.
• Certain hobbies.
Making stained glass and some jewelry requires the use of lead solder. Refinishing old furniture might put you in contact with layers of lead paint.
• Living in developing countries.
Developing countries often have less strict rules regarding exposure to lead than do developed countries.
Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause damage over time, especially in children. The greatest risk is to brain development, where irreversible damage can occur. Higher levels can damage the kidneys and nervous system in both children and adults. Very high lead levels may cause seizures, unconsciousness and death.
Anyone who is concerned that their child may be affected by lead can request a blood test.
In adults, lead levels 10 µg/DL are considered unsafe.The CDC say that no level of lead is safe in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics note that changes in thinking have occurred with levels of 5 µg/dL.
There are no safe levels of lead in the body. In other words, any presence of lead in the body can cause harm.
Other tests for lead poisoning include:
• bone marrow biopsy
• erythrocyte protoporphyrin level (a test for iron deficiency)
• iron level
• complete blood cell count and coagulation tests
• x-ray of long bones and abdomen.
As with most types of poisoning, the first step is to identify and remove the source of the poison. If the problem is old paint, it may be best to seal in the paint rather than to chip it, sand it or burn it off, which could increase the quantities of lead in the air.
If removing the source does not reduce blood levels, the following may be necessary:
• Chelation therapy
This involves medication that binds with the lead and allows it to be passed in the urine or feces. Chelation therapy might 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.
Health care providers treat adults with lead levels greater than 45 mcg/dL of blood and children who can’t tolerate the drug used in conventional chelation therapy most commonly with a chemical called calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA). EDTA is given by injection.
Additionally, if there are concerns that someone has eaten a life-threatening amount of lead in one dose, the following procedures might be needed:
• Bowel irrigation
Flushing out the entire gastrointestinal tract with large volumes of polyethylene glycol solution
• Gastric lavage
Also called gastric suction or stomach pumping, this involves washing out the stomach via a tube and saline irrigation inserted into the throat.
Intravenous fluid administration may be necessary.
Measures that can help reduce the risk of lead poisoning include:
• Running water
In older properties with lead pipes or fittings, run the cold water for at least 1 minute before use. Do not use the hot water tap for cooking or drinking.
• Avoiding soil
Prevent children from playing in the soil. Perhaps provide a sandbox and plant grass to cover patches of bare soil.
• Following a healthful diet
A diet that is rich in calcium and iron can help lower lead absorption.
• Installing a filter
If water tests high for lead, consider installing an effective water filtering device, or switch to bottled water.
Wash children’s hands regularly to lower the risk of swallowing fragments of lead from soil and dust.
Keep the environment as free from dust as possible. Wipe floors with a damp mop and clean surfaces with a damp cloth. This keeps the dust from lifting back into the air and being breathed in.
Do not store wine, vinegar-based dressings, or spirits in lead crystal decanters for long periods of time, as lead can leach into the liquid.
• Canned foods
Avoid imported canned foods, as some countries have not yet banned lead from manufacturing processes.
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