Lead Poisoning in Children by Dr. Chetan Ginigeri

9 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

lead poisoning in children

Parenthood is the best phase of everybody’s life, and every parent cherishes each and every moment. Seeing their little one grow up when he starts crawling, first words, first tiny steps, all of them. Similarly, keeping your child safe and healthy also becomes a matter of primary concern. We often face a question – “Whether science is a blessing or a curse to mankind?” The rapid development of human civilization not only has brought joy and prosperity but also has introduced many fatal diseases and health issues into not only our but to our kid’s life too.  One such hazard is Lead Poisoning in children.

Lead is a hazardous metal and can cause severe problems in the human body. Children are delicate and their body parts are not in a mature state. Therefore, the effect of lead poisoning is more acute for them and can cause serious issues. There are many petty things that can expose your child to lead and as a parent, you should know which are those things. In this article, we discuss lead poisoning in children, the harm they can bring about, the various sources of lead poisoning, and how you can protect your child from lead exposure. Stay with us till the end.

In This Article

What is Lead Poisoning?

Before we go into the details, let’s understand what is lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is also known as Plumbism, and saturanism and is a type of metal poisoning. When the lead content in your body increases, it can lead to lead poisoning. It does not happen overnight.

Regular exposure to lead gradually increases the quantity of lead in the body and this accumulation can go on for months and sometimes, even years. The critical part is that you do not realize that lead poisoning is happening in your body until the situation becomes serious. Even a little amount of lead can cause severe health problems.

Why is Lead Harmful to Child’s Health?

Lead is one of the most toxic metals on earth and it can be found in various forms in the environment. Different biochemical compositions of lead can cause different types of toxicity and health issues. The interaction of lead with the enzymes inside the cells is detrimental to the human body.

Lead is a neurotoxin, meaning that it can affect the nervous system, ultimately leading to growth issues and learning disabilities. As the organs of children are not fully developed and mature, particularly toddlers and infants, they are more susceptible to lead poisoning. A small amount of lead can cause a risk of developmental effects in children.

What Causes Lead Poisoning?

Lead is a heavy metal present in the earth’s crust. Due to several human activities like mining, smelting, manufacturing, burning fossil fuel, people are more exposed to lead-based products. Most current industries like battery, pottery, cosmetic-manufacturing, roofing, and building material industries use lead as a key component in their products or in the manufacturing process.

Lead is present everywhere in the environment, in the air, water, soil, and is not visible to the naked eye. When this lead enters your body through the food you eat or through air particles, your exposure to lead poisoning starts. You cannot smell or taste it either.

Breathing in dust and contaminated air that contains lead can cause lead poisoning. Lead was used in paints and the debris of old buildings often contains the dust of this toxic metal. If you stay in close vicinity to such areas, there is a chance of lead contamination in your child.

Why are Young Children More at Risk of Lead Poisoning?

A child is in a period of rapid development, during which all body parts also mature gradually. They constantly adapt to external hazards. Therefore, immature organs are at more risk of any toxic chemicals.

According to a study by Dr. Subhojit Dey, children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning, especially below six years kids. A child’s body can absorb lead more easily than older kids and adults. Their body confuses lead as a vital element (like calcium) and starts to metabolize it for bone, muscle, and brain development.

Another major reason is babies crawl and puts their hands and fingers into their mouths often, which can transmit external dust and particles into their bodies. Many children have the habit of eating dirt, paint chips, clay, and therefore, they are at more risk of consuming items that may have lead in them.

[Read : Child Safety: Poisons In Your Home]

Sources of Lead Exposure

sources of lead poisoning

This naturally occurring heavy metal is present in every form and every part of the environment like air, soil, and water. There are many sources that can expose your child to lead-related health hazards. Let us see the probable sources of lead exposure.

1. Lead-Based Paints

Lead metal is used in many paint preparation processes. Paints are vastly used in home painting, household furniture painting, and even in some toys painting. Children, when they start crawling, often put their hands in their mouth, which allows the lead-based paint to get into their bodies. Many children and toddlers have a habit of eating dust and paint chips, which also expose them to lead.

2. Water Supply Pipes

Often drinking water supply pipes have lead-based materials or pipe joints with lead solder that cause lead contamination in the drinking water.

3. Contaminated Soil

Lead particles can last for years. Leaded paints, fuels, improper disposal of batteries, and other lead-based products cause major soil contamination which is a critical issue. Also, the debris of old houses which have lead-based paints contaminates the soil with lead.

4. Potteries and Toys

Glazed potteries like some ceramics and porcelain items often have lead contains. There is a chance of contamination in the food items served or stored in those potteries.

5. Traditional Medicines

As per one report of the National Health Portal, lead is also used in some traditional medications. Lead contamination is often linked to such folk remedies and traditional medicinal sciences.

6. Occupational Health Hazards

Lead is widely used in many industries such as mining, smelting, batteries for vehicles, pigments and paints, stained glass and glassware, ammunition, ceramic glazes, jewelry, toys, etc. People who work in such industries are exposed to lead contamination constantly. They can bring back home lead residue in the form of specks of dust on their clothes. Such residue becomes the source of lead for children growing in the same house.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Children

signs of lead poisoning in children

The critical part of lead contamination is that it cannot be detected so easily. Even healthy people can have a high level of lead in their bodies. Children with lead poisoning also do not show any immediate warning symptoms. But even a small amount can cause severe behavioral as well as health issues. It is a cumulative toxicant, which means it accumulates and increases in the body over years. Some major symptoms include:

  • Brain and kidney damage in kids
  • Developmental delay in children
  • Difficulties in learning
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea
  • Muscle and joint weakness, fatigue

How is Lead Poisoning in Kids Treated?

Lead is not at all safe for human beings of any age, especially for children. A simple blood test can reveal the lead levels in your child’s body. The environmental investigation also provides information about the risk and levels of lead contamination in a particular area.

If you or your family members work in jobs with the risk of lead contamination, you must get regular checkups done not only for your child but for the whole family. Depending upon the blood lead level, the treatment varies. Let us take a look at some treatment options for lead poisoning in children.

1. Removing the Source of Contamination:

The first step in treating lead poisoning in kids is identifying the source of contamination. This step will give an idea of how to avoid further lead exposure and keep your child safe from lead contamination.

2. Chelation Therapy

Doctors recommend this process in severe cases of lead poisoning. As a part of chelation therapy, a synthetic solution called EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is injected into the child’s body. This process removes heavy metals and minerals from the body and excess contaminants leave the body through urine.

3. Nutritional Counseling

It is reported that children with full stomachs absorb less lead than those who are hungry. Foods rich in iron, calcium, vitamin C are prescribed to reduce the lead blood level. Iron helps to reduce lead absorption. Enough calcium stored in the bones does not allow the lead to accumulating in the bones.

How Can You Protect Your Children From Lead Exposure?

There is a common saying that “prevention is better than cure” and this applies to lead poisoning in children as well. As we discussed earlier, the symptoms of this contamination cannot be observed normally. Hence, protecting your little one from lead exposure is the primary way to keep them safe from this deadly hazard.

1. Get Your Child Tested

lead test

If you suspect lead poisoning in your child, take steps to run a test on them. You can consult a pediatrician who will guide you on the tests to be done. A child who appears healthy may have high lead content in the blood. A minor level of lead contamination can have an adverse effect on your child’s health.

If you or any of your family members are exposed to lead-based work, this test can save your kid’s life. The test reports will allow your doctor to advise you on the future course of action you can take to keep your child safe.

2. Wash Hands Properly

Washing your hands before holding your child is a good practice to keep lead away from your child. We often, unknowingly, get in contact with some lead-based materials and that is risky for our little champs.

3. Run Cold Water

Drinking water supply pipes often have lead-based solder which contaminates the water. As you cannot taste or smell lead, it is simply impossible to trace lead contamination in the drinking water.

It is recommended to use cold water for drinking and preparing baby foods. Run cold water for some time before using it for consumption. Cleaning the faucet aerator also reduces the exposure to lead.

[Read: How to Stop Child Eating Soil]

4. Stop Children From Playing on Soil

Due to heavy lead contamination in the soil, children who play on it are susceptible to lead exposure. This risk is even higher in places nearer to lead mining, manufacturing, a battery manufacturing unit, or other lead-exposed areas. Encourage children to play in the sand or grass instead of playing in the soil.

5. Maintain Hygiene

Keep your house clean from dirt and dust. Dust often contains traces of lead, especially in older homes. This, in turn, gets into your child’s body if they swallow or breathe dirt or dust.

Keep the surface clean and even wash the toys and bottles if they are on the floor. Check whether there is any paint peel-off on the floor and clean it immediately. Avoid scratches on that specific portion of the wall as it can generate dust.

6. Give a Healthy Diet

eat healthy

Iron, calcium, and vitamin C-rich foods are good to fight against lead poisoning in children. Foods like eggs, lean red meat, beans have a high amount of iron, whereas dairy products provide a good amount of calcium.

Read : Healthy Eating – 10 Tips To Inculcate Healthy Eating Habits in Kids

7. Don’t Bring Lead Dust into Your Home

If you work in industries that use lead in their products, you need to be more cautious as you can bring this metal to your home in different forms. Construction sites, demolition areas, battery manufacturing or disposal units, ceramic glazing plants, all have lead in some form. If you have a child at home, change your clothes and take a bath before entering your home. This will wash away the lead particles from your body.

Lead is a dangerous metal, especially for children. Some simple tips can help your family to live a healthy life. Most of the lead-based hazards are man-made and prevention is the better way to keep the lead-based problems away. Hope this article is useful for you. Mention your thoughts in the comment box below.


1. What are the Signs of Lead Poisoning in a Child?

There are no specific signs or symptoms of lead poisoning in the initial stage. But if your child is suffering from developmental delay, learning problems, behavioral issues, Weight loss, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, or loss of appetite, then it may happen that your child is having lead poisoning and you should visit your doctor as soon as possible.

2. Do Children Recover From Lead Poisoning?

Yes, if the case is not severe, some treatments can cure lead poisoning. The primary step is to keep them away from further lead exposure.

3. What Happens if My Child Tests Positive for Lead?

There is no major issue if your child has tested positive for lead if the level is not much. Keep them away from further lead exposure and the lead level in the blood down. Give them healthy foods rich in iron, calcium, vitamin C as these can help to reduce the level of lead in their body.

Read Also: Childproofing Your Home For Poisons

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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