Lead Poisoning: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Precautions

21 June 2016 |

Lead poisoning is a serious health condition. While therapy is available, many people have died from it. It happens when lead accumulates in the body. Lead is highly toxic, and it’s found in many of the structures and items around us every day such as paint on the walls, gasoline, art supplies, and toys.


Lead poisoning takes time to turn into a problem for people. Usually, someone has to be exposed to it for months or years before it becomes a problem. Children are much more vulnerable to lead poisoning because many of them have a tendency to put things in their mouth. Lead contamination can also happen when a person touches something with lead in it with their hands or fingers and then places their hands and fingers in their mouth, such as eating without washing first.

Children often suffer the most from lead poisoning. The toxin attacks the brain and nervous system, and since they are still being developed during childhood, they can become permanently disabled or die from it.

Causes of Lead Poisoning

The main causes of lead poisoning are:

  • Breathing in dust contaminated with lead
  • Living in a home with paint from before 1978
  • Toys that were painted before 1976
  • Toys that were made outside of the United States since some manufacturers overseas still use lead paint
  • Lead bullets
  • Fishing sinkers
  • Curtain weights
  • Pipes and sink faucets made of lead
  • Soil with car exhaust or old house paint
  • Jewelry made with lead
  • Batteries
  • Many ethnic medicines

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Many people have lead poisoning and do not even realize it because the symptoms mimic the symptoms of many other health conditions. It’s also sometimes undetected because the symptoms accumulate over time as the toxin builds up in the body.

It’s important to know all of the symptoms of lead, and anyone who has experienced most of them should speak to a medical professional about the possibility of lead poisoning. If you do not believe you’ve been exposed to lead, it’s crucial to have the test done to discount it as a diagnosis.

These are the signs of lead exposure and poisoning:

  • Stomachache
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Constipation
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Appetite loss
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Loss of memory
  • Anemia
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Loss of development skills in children

Children who suffer from lead poisoning may begin exhibiting behavioral problems, score poorly on tests in school, lose their hearing, have problems with learning, and experience growth delays.

Anyone with the following symptoms of lead poisoning should seek emergency medical care:

  • Vomiting
  • Stumbling while walking
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness

Treatment for Lead Poisoning

After a doctor diagnoses lead poisoning, the first step is to remove all of the lead where the person has been exposed to it. This will keep the person from getting sicker.

People with a mild to moderate case of lead poisoning can recover from it with time and follow up with medical appointments. It’s important that a health professional reviews the lead levels in the body to ensure permanent damage does not occur.

For severe cases of lead poisoning, chelation therapy can be used. This therapy works to bind lead in the body and then the person urinates it out. Activated charcoal may be used to remove lead from the gastrointestinal tract. Since the only way to remove the lead is through excreting it out through urination and bowel movement, doctors may prescribe medications to help the elimination process.

Lead poisoning damage is permanent. However, some medical professionals have used EDTA. This is a chemical that can help the body recover from the effects of the poisoning.

Preventing Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is highly preventable. It’s the continuous exposure to lead that’s the problem. Reducing exposure is critical to avoid the condition.

Following these tips to reduce the risk of lead poisoning in your environment:

  • Dispose of toys or canned goods from countries outside of the United States
  • Dust your home regularly
  • Try to only use cold water for foods and drinks
  • Get your water tested for lead
  • Clean faucets regularly to remove lead buildup
  • Exercise good hand washing
  • If you’re having work done to your home, ensure the contractor has a lead control certification
  • Only use lead free paint when painting
  • Screen your children for lead

If you believe you have lead in your home, you can contact the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-5323. They will give you information on how you can safely remove the lead.