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Children's Health

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Lead Poisoning and Kids

Lead Poisoning: What It Is, How to Test, What to Do

What Are the Risks of Lead Poisoning?

Rosen says the ultimate effects of lead on children include:

  • Loss of IQ points
  • Impairments in language fluency or communication
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Lack of concentration
  • Poor fine-motor skills
  • Difficulty with planning and organization
  • Difficulty forming abstract concepts
  • Poor cognitive flexibility (trying something else if the first thing you try doesn't solve a problem)

"To fully test children to see if there are any adverse outcomes from lead poisoning cannot be done until they reach their sixth birthday," Rosen says. "Many of these symptoms don't manifest until age 6 or 7 years. What a parent might know before that might well be some common complaints such as speech delay, hyperactivity, not being able to sit/listen/learn in school, and not being able to focus. Those observations may be the result of earlier childhood lead poisoning."

Is Your Child at Risk of Lead Poisoning?

Except in those rare cases in which a child ingests a huge amount of lead, lead poisoning has no obvious, immediate symptoms.

"Over time, you may notice tiredness, nonspecific belly complaints, or a child may become anemic," Benitez says. "Unless you are eating blocks of lead, there are no acute or sudden symptoms that would appear in minutes. That is the problem with lead -- the subtle, slow dose over time."

There is a sure way to know whether your child has accumulated dangerous amounts of lead: a simple blood test. Such tests cost about $15 or $20. Results come back in two days, says Emory University pediatrician Robert J. Geller, MD, medical director of the Georgia Poison Center and chief of pediatrics at Grady Health System, Atlanta. Rosen says, "To be cautious, if a child has been playing with a leaded toy for about one month or more, it is suggested that a child should be tested for lead."

"The average American blood level is 2 to 3 micrograms/dL," Geller tells WebMD. "Your body does get rid of lead very slowly. So a small amount that gets in will be excreted. It is not a permanent blood level."

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