Is Your Child at Risk for Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning remains the most preventable environmental health problem.

By Dr. Ruchi Kaushik
General Pediatrics
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

Affecting almost 1 million children in the United States, lead poisoning remains the most preventable environmental health problem. Any child may be at risk for lead toxicity. If you are the parent of a child six years and younger, read on to learn about the risks, prevention, screening, and treatment of lead poisoning.

Children may be exposed to lead by:

  • putting their hands in their mouths after touching old paint or toys with lead dust
  • breathing in lead dust from old paint
  • eating chips or dirt containing lead
  • drinking water from pipes lined or soldered with lead

After entering the body, lead travels in the bloodstream and is stored in the bones, where it may remain for a lifetime.

High levels of lead in the body may cause long-term health problems including developmental delays, hearing loss, seizures and coma, kidney problems, anemia, and growth problems. A blood lead level of five or less is considered normal. Even a level of 10 may affect learning and behavior.

Lead may be found in:

  • dust and paint chips from old paint
  • homes built before 1950
  • homes built before 1978 that are being renovated
  • soil
  • hobby materials (stained glass, paints, solders, fishing weights, buckshot)
  • workplace dust brought home on clothing of people who have jobs using lead (foundry workers, smelter workers, radiator repair mechanics)
  • food stored in ceramic dishes
  • older painted toys and antique furniture
  • tap water in older homes
  • automobile batteries

The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to screen a child for lead poisoning at the ages of one and two years. By six years, your pediatrician will ask you several questions to assess your child’s risk of toxicity. Screening involves a simple blood test performed by pricking your child’s finger.

Treatment for low levels of lead in the blood is identifying and eliminating the sources of lead in the child’s environment. An elevated blood lead level is a county health reportable disease, and county health departments aid families in pinpointing their child’s root cause of lead toxicity.

Children with high levels of lead in the blood usually need to take medication, as a series of shots or by mouth, that binds lead and helps the body get rid of it. Severe damage may require special schooling and therapy.

For more information about lead poisoning, visit the American of Academy of Pediatrics or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites.

If you would like your child screened for lead poisoning, call your pediatrician. If you need help finding a pediatrician for your child, visit this page to find a doctor for your child.

Dr. Ruchi Kaushik is a pediatric primary care physician at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio pediatric clinic located in the Goldsbury Center for Children and Families in downtown San Antonio. She is also Director of the Comprehensive Peds for Complex Needs program that focuses on helping coordinate care for children with multiple special needs.