Lead Poisoning in Children

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A mother taking care of her unwell daughter

Our children cannot be completely under our control or in our sight as they grow up and carry on exploring the world around them in their own way. This does put them at the risk of injuries or exposure to certain chemicals that can cause them to fall ill. Most of them might be harmless but one of the most dangerous ones to be aware of is checking lead exposure in children. Not only is it potent but there is a risk of it turning fatal as well.

Why is Lead Harmful to Health?

No matter who lead finds its way inside the body, but once it is there, it is no less harmful than a powerful poison. A variety of elements present inside the body such as iron, calcium, zinc bond with the lead and carry it to different regions of the body. This gives it an open pass to start damaging blood cells and other organs, too. When it reaches the bones, it restricts them from absorbing calcium, as well as the surrounding muscles, leading to problems in the functioning of nerves and blood vessels.

What is Lead Poisoning?

There’s no benchmark possible to set an acceptable level of lead exposure since lead is bound to cause harm one way or the other. A presence of a lead level around 7.5 micrograms/dL is generally termed to be dangerous, and conclusive of lead poisoning, which could also be triggered at a level of 5, too. Most lead levels rise progressively over a period of time due to continued exposure.

What Causes Lead Poisoning?

Lead is present in a number of items around a child. A kid could end up inhaling the lead dust through his nose, indulge in eating soil that contains lead, or even the tiny paint chips which have the lead as a constituent.

Many families that live in old homes since the ages have a higher risk of being exposed to lead through tap water. Any kind of paint that is used in the house for covering frames, bars, or other aspects, tend to degrade gradually and leave lead particles in the air, which can be inhaled by the kid. It also settles onto furniture and finds its way onto your kid’s hands. With the tendency of babies and kids to keep putting their hands in the mouth, lead gets a free passageway directly into the body.

If you are pregnant and have high levels of lead in your blood, your baby tends to get it automatically through you.

Why are Young Children More at Risk of Lead Poisoning?

Young children have a tendency to interact with random things in the environment, many of which end up in their mouth as they try eating it or tasting it. The exposed paint from a wall, wood pieces, soil, are all particles that contain lead and find their way into the child. When extended families stay together in old homes, the chances of all these sources being present are further increased.

Certain activities may tend to temporarily increase the presence of lead in the home. These could be hobbies your kid is engaged with, or if you’ve chosen to refurbish your home. Lead-based paint is used heavily and lead particles in the air begin to increase, posing a greater risk to the child.

Sources of Lead Exposure

  • Lead-contaminated soil, especially in areas with gasoline or paint presence nearby.
  • Household dust contaminated with paint particles containing lead.
  • Indulging in pottery that introduces lead from ceramic or porcelain glazes in the environment or even in the food.
  • Various toys that your kids play with that make use of lead in manufacturing.
  • Cosmetic or other herbal remedies that tend to have a higher percentage of lead.
  • Specific work-related risks, especially for parents indulging in occupations such as vehicle repair, plumbing, painting, construction, etc. These have a higher chance of bringing lead particles back home from work.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Children

  • Being constantly irritated or having strong problems with behaviour
  • Facing extreme difficulty in concentrating on studies or activities
  • Frequent and debilitating headaches
  • A substantial loss in appetite, consequently ending up in weight loss
  • A general tiredness or fatigue, with lethargy in activities
  • Pain in the stomach or abdomen, combined with vomiting
  • Frequent complaints of constipation
  • Lowered levels of iron resulting in anaemia
  • Tasting a weird kind of metallic flavour in the mouth
  • Weakness in the joints of bones and muscular pain
  • Extreme cases of seizures

When Should you Child be Diagnosed for Lead Poisoning?

A mother and daughter at the doctor's clinic

If your child depicts multiple symptoms mentioned above, and you have a suspicion that your environment or his activities might have exposed him to lead, it is necessary to talk to your doctor about the possibility of the same. You might be staying in a new home, but your child might be playing with his friends in a dilapidated old building that has multiple sources of lead.

Your doctor will primarily want your child to undergo a blood test and look for traces of lead. Most doctors would recommend getting your child checked regularly, especially if he is under 2 years old, and you tend to stay in a region that has risks of lead poisoning.

Long-Term Effects of Lead Poisoning in Children

  • The growth of bone structure in the child is not up to the mark with a marked decrease in their strength.
  • Muscle growth takes a hit as well with the child failing to gain enough muscle mass.
  • The coordination between muscles is not at the levels that kids of his age ought to have.
  • There is substantial damage to the nervous system, causing kidneys to function erratically or even result in hearing loss.
  • There are various developmental delays that might be observed in the child, many of which can be manifested in the form of language learning issues and speech problems.
  • If the lead levels in children reach a high point, they could fall unconscious and undergo a seizure which could lead to further complications.

How is Lead Poisoning in Kids Treated?

One of the first measures that need to be taken immediately is to discover the source of lead and remove its presence completely. This could mean shifting to a new home temporarily or undertaking numerous precautions to reduce your child’s exposure to outside elements.

If the levels of lead are extremely high, your doctor might suggest undertaking medical therapy. One of those is termed as chelation therapy. This method works like cannon fodder since the medication acts as a ready-binder for lead present in the blood. Once bounded, this is removed from the body via urination. Such kind of medicated chelation therapy is usually for kids whose lead levels are higher than 45 micrograms/dL. If the kid does not respond to the medication or tends to show a reaction to it, a similar methodology is adopted by making use of a different chemical called EDTA, or calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid.

The right treatment needs to be supplemented by a diet that supports it as well as helps in the recovery of health. The presence of elements such as iron and calcium and vitamin C help bring the body to a healthy state as well as prevent the lead uptake within the body. Dietary supplements might also be recommended by the doctor for serious cases.

How can you Protect your Children from Lead Exposure?

  • Begin with your home. Make sure it is free of any kind of lead exposure. Remove any peeling paint chips and use a wet cloth to mop the dust. If you tend to vacuum your home, make sure your clean holds a filter that has the tendency to trap lead particles.
  • Another entity that your kid tends to interact with a lot, are his toys. The paint of the toys rarely comes off and, if it does, it is best to replace the toy, for the risk of the paint entering your child’s mouth is higher. If your kid uses the toys outside the house, wash them and disinfect them properly.
  • Take care of your child when letting him play by himself. Keep him away from windows or door frames so that he doesn’t latch on to them and lick the surfaces. Restrict his play area by placing pillows so that he doesn’t move around.
  • Avoid letting your child play in dirty areas or in old buildings. Get his friends together and recommend that they play in the garden or the nearby park.
  • Take a quick check of your home to notice any sources that might contain lead.
  • Keep a well-balanced and nourishing diet a constant for your child, with enough vitamin C and calcium.
  • When opting for a crèche or a daycare for your child, make sure the building is safe and not too old.
  • Get your tap water checked for the presence of lead and prefer using cold water for consumption since hot water increases the presence of lead.

How to Test your Home for Lead?

Get a professional expert to examine your home as well as the surrounding areas for the presence of lead.

If your home is rented, talk to your landlord about certain changes that would be required to reduce the sources of lead.

Presence of lead in the soil can be countered by planting a garden to prevent your child from eating the soil or replacing the topsoil with a healthier one.

Lead poisoning in toddlers, as well as children, is quite serious. This is the age of children to explore and have fun, but that can still be achieved with a few precautions in place. Making your kid aware of the illnesses can inculcate a sense of care within him, while also allowing him to be his own safety mentor.

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