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What are the Symptoms of Lead Poisoning?

By J. Beam
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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Lead is a toxin that is especially dangerous if ingested or inhaled. Lead poisoning is the condition that can occur if high levels of lead build up in the body. The symptoms of lead poisoning can be immediate if a large, single dose of lead is ingested or inhaled, but usually lead poisoning occurs slowly over time as a result of repeat exposure to small amounts of lead.

The symptoms of lead poisoning are vast and are symptomatic of other conditions as well. A blood test can determine if there are high levels of lead in a person’s body. Symptoms of lead poisoning include irritability, difficulty sleeping, headaches, reduced sensations, loss of developmental skills in young children, loss of appetite and energy, and anemia. In high doses, lead poisoning can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, muscle weakness and seizures.

Lead poisoning is a much greater risk for children than adults. A child’s brain and nervous system are still developing and therefore are at risk for developmental damage from lead. Lead is found in numerous places, some well known such as lead-based paint, and others are not so well known sources. Though a primary sources of lead is lead-based paint and it was outlawed in the United States in 1976, it can still exist in older homes and even on painted toys. However, lead also exists in soil, older plumbing pipes soldered with lead, storage batteries, and even paint and craft sets made for children. In 2003, several retailers voluntarily recalled sidewalk chalk due to excessive lead content.

In addition to the symptoms of lead poisoning, there are certain risks associated with lead poisoning in children. Reduced IQ, hearing, behavior, and attention problems as well as stunted growth and kidney damage can be the result of increased lead levels. A simple blood test can be done to determine if a person has high levels of lead in the body and a physician will provide additional information based on the results.

Though minute traces of lead are found in most all people, elevated levels are of concern to doctors. If higher than normal levels of lead are discovered, it becomes necessary to determine and eliminate the source(s) of lead. Once the source of lead is eliminated, the body’s lead levels are usually reduced to normal over time. However any developmental damage resulting from long-term exposure may be permanent.

If you have reason to believe you or your child has been exposed to lead, contact a physician to perform a blood test. You can reduce lead exposure by developing awareness of its sources. If you suspect your home contains lead-based paint, seek professional advice for abatement. Have your water tested for lead and use filtered or bottled water for drinking. Insist on practical hygiene and always wash hands before eating. If you or a family member has been exposed to a high, single dose of lead and exhibits severe symptoms of lead poisoning, call an emergency number or your local poison control center.

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