Lead Poisoning in Children: Care Instructions

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Lead poisoning occurs when you breathe or swallow too much lead. Lead is a metal that is sometimes found in food, dust, paint, and water. Too much lead in the body is especially bad for a young child. A child may swallow lead by eating chips of old paint or chewing on objects painted with lead-based paint.

Lead poisoning can cause a stomachache, muscle weakness, and brain damage. It can slow a child's growth. And it can cause learning disabilities and behavior and hearing problems. Lead also can cause these problems in an unborn baby (fetus).

Lead is found in the environment. It can get into homes and workplaces through certain products. Lead has been removed from many products, such as gasoline and new paints. But it can still be found in older paints and batteries. Many homes built before 1978 may have lead-based paint.

Removing lead from the home is the most important thing you can do to reduce further health damage from lead.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If your child takes medicine to remove lead from their body, have your child take the medicine exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.
  • If your home has lead pipes:
    • Do not cook with, drink, or make baby formula with water from the hot-water tap. Hot water pulls more lead out of pipes than cold water does. (It is okay to bathe or shower in hot water. That's because lead usually does not get into the body through the skin.)
    • Let cold water run for a few minutes before you drink it or cook with it.
    • Buy and use a water filter certified to remove lead.
  • Feed your child healthy foods with plenty of iron and calcium. A healthy diet makes it harder for lead to get into the body. Yogurt, cheese, and some green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, have calcium. Iron is found in meats, leafy green vegetables, raisins, peas, beans, lentils, and eggs. Make sure your child gets phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin C in their diet.

To prevent lead poisoning

  • Have your home checked for lead. Call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (1-800-424-5323) to learn more and to get a list of resources in your area. Have all home remodeling or refinishing projects done by people who have experience in lead removal or control. Keep your family away from the home during the project.
  • Wash your child's hands, bottles, toys, and pacifiers often.
  • Do not let your child eat dirt or food that falls on the floor.
  • Clean windowsills, door frames, and floors without carpet 2 times a week. Use warm, soapy water on a cloth or mop. Clean rugs with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, if possible. Steam-clean carpets.
  • Take off your shoes or wipe dirt off them before you go into your home.
  • Do not scrape, sand, or burn painted wood unless you are sure that it does not contain lead.
  • If you know paint has lead in it, do not remove it yourself.
  • If you have a hobby that uses lead (such as making stained glass), move your work space away from your home. Wash and change your clothes before you get in your car or go home.

Storing and preparing food to lower the chance of lead poisoning

  • If you reuse plastic bags to store food, make sure the printing is on the outside.
  • Never store food in an opened metal can, especially if the can was not made in the United States. If there is lead in the metal or the solder, it can be released into the food after air gets into the can.
  • Do not prepare, serve, or store food or drinks in ceramic pottery or crystal glasses unless you are sure they are lead-free.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has seizures.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has severe belly pain or frequent forceful vomiting (projectile vomiting).
  • You live in an older home with peeling or chipping paint and your child or someone in the house has signs of lead poisoning. These signs include:
    • Being very tired or drowsy.
    • Weakness in the hands and feet.
    • Changes in personality.
    • Headaches.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You want help to find out if your home has lead in it.
  • You want to have your child tested for lead.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.