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Lead Poisoning: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


WRITTEN BY: Poison Center
Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Lead poisoning is a debilitating, potentially deadly condition that affects thousands of Americans each year. And children are especially at risk.

Lead poisoning affects thousands of Americans each year. Learn more. Click To Tweet

Developing bodies are particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 140,000 children were tested for lead poisoning in Pennsylvania in 2014. Of these, 1,800 tested positive for significant levels of lead exposure.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Lead exposure symptoms are subtle — if at all detectable. They often mimic the symptoms of other health or behavioral problems.

The key is to identify potential sources of lead exposure and then be tested. Children with lead poisoning may experience:

Symptoms of lead exposure often mimic symptoms of other health problems. #leadpoisoning Click To Tweet

Adults can experience similar changes in mood and behavior, including difficulty concentrating and remembering. Other lead poisoning symptoms in adults may include:

Extremely high levels of lead can result in seizure, coma, paralysis, and even death.

Lead Poisoning Prevention and Early Detection

If you or your child show signs of these symptoms, consider being tested for lead exposure. A simple lead blood test can be ordered by your doctor.

Rather than relying on the symptoms, it’s better to be aware of the sources of lead and be tested if you or your children have had a potential exposure.

How Are People Exposed to Lead?

Exposure to lead can happen through physical contact, ingestion, or inhalation.

People who live in homes built prior to 1978 are at an increased risk of lead exposure. Houses built prior to this year could contain lead paint, which then contaminates dust particles. About 24 million homes in the United State have an unsafe level of lead from decades-old deteriorating paint.

Fact: About 24 million homes in the US have an unsafe level of lead from deteriorating paint. Click To Tweet

The most common sources of lead exposure:

  • Occupational exposure such as glass-making, being around firearms, metal workers, etc.
  • Working in dirt with high levels of lead
  • Drinking water that flows through lead pipes
  • Exposure to industrial pollution
  • Eating food that’s been in contact with ceramics that contain lead
  • Exposure to folk remedies that use herbs and vitamins from other countries that may contain lead
  • Contact with jewelry or toys made of lead or have lead-based paint

If you or your child have potentially been in contact with lead, make an appointment with your health care provider today to be tested for lead.

If you have any questions about lead exposure sources, or other lead concerns, you can contact the Pennsylvania Department of Health, who operates a lead information line. By calling 1-800-440-LEAD (5323), you can get more information about your potential lead exposures.

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Poison Center

The Pittsburgh Poison Center responds to over 150,000 requests for poison information each year. It is staffed 24/7 by nurse specialists with extensive training in clinical toxicology. The Pittsburgh Poison Center created Mr. Yuk in 1971 to education children and adults about poison prevention and awareness. Read More