Health Library
Lead Poisoning

What is Lead Poisoning?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 535,000 children in the United States between the ages of 1 and 5 have elevated blood lead levels.

Even children that seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies. Children can get lead in their bodies by either ingesting lead dust, soil tainted with lead, or paint chips with lead in them. Fortunately, lead poisoning is a totally preventable disease. With some precautions, you may reduce your child's risk of lead poisoning.

Effects of Lead in the Body

Lead poisoning can affect just about every system in the body yet often produces no obvious symptoms. The following are some of the most common symptoms of lead poisoning. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Lead poisoning may cause:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches and persistent abdominal pain
  • Anemia

Lead is also harmful to adults, who may suffer from:

  • Difficulties during pregnancy
  • Reproductive problems in both men and women
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive problems
  • Nerve disorders
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Muscle and joint pain

Acutely high levels of lead may also cause seizures, coma and death. The symptoms of lead poisoning may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for diagnosis and management.

Understanding the Dangers

Children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths that can have lead-contaminated dust or paint chips on them. Their growing bodies absorb more lead, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead

Children under age 6 who live in housing built before 1978 are especially at risk; however, 30% of children with lead poisoning were exposed outside of their home. In addition, recent immigrants, children living near industrial sites, and those whose parents work in industries involving lead are at higher risk.

If You Suspect Your Home Has Lead

  • Have young children tested for lead, even if they seem healthy.
  • Make sure your entire family washes their hands before eating and going to bed.
  • Wash children's bottles, pacifiers and toys often.
  • Make sure children eat healthy foods with adequate iron and calcium. These minerals help decrease the absorption of lead.
  • Have your home checked for lead hazards, including testing water, paint and dust.
  • Clean floors, windowsills and other surfaces with soapy water often.
  • Wipe soil off shoes or remove shoes before entering your home.
  • Talk with your landlord about fixing surfaces with peeling or chipping paint.
  • Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling or renovating (call 1-800-424-LEAD for guidelines).
  • Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, dry scraper or dry sandpaper on painted surfaces that may contain lead.
  • Do not try to remove lead-based paint yourself. Have it professionally removed.

Testing Your Child for Lead Exposure

If you think your child could be exposed to lead, get your child tested. A simple blood test can detect high levels of lead, and is important for:

  • Children of any age, especially those who are 9 months to 2 years old.
  • Family members whom you think might have high levels of lead.

Your child's physician can test your child's blood levels. The tests are inexpensive and usually covered by health insurance. Your child's physician will explain the test results. Treatment can range from changes in diet, home repairs, medications or a hospital stay.

For Information

You can contact the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center for details about concerns you may have about lead poisoning. Call 513-636-5111 or toll free 1-800-222-1222. The Environmental Health Clinic provides care to children with lead poisoning in the Cincinnati metropolitan area 513-803-3688.

Last Updated 08/2023

Reviewed By Nick DeBlasio, MD

Who treats this.

The Environmental Health and Lead Clinic provides care to children with lead poisoning in the Cincinnati area.