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Learn About Lead Poisoning

What is Lead?  

Lead is a soft, heavy, toxic metal. It is found in many products we use every day – sometimes even in toys and some imported candies. It’s also in the paint in many houses and in some dirt and dust. When lead gets into the body, it is a poison that harms people. Lead poisoning is most common in young children and is most harmful to children because it affects their developing brains.

What is Lead Poisoning?  

Lead poisoning means having lead in the body in an amount that can cause serious health and development problems. Lead poisoning most often builds up slowly over time, due to repeated contact with small amounts of lead. But swallowing a lead object, such as toy jewelry that contains lead can cause acute lead poisoning, and even death.

Lead poisoning is much more dangerous for children than adults because it affects kids’ developing brains and nervous systems. The younger the child, the more harm lead can cause.

Lead can cause serious health effects:

  • kidney problems
  • anemia
  • hearing loss
  • developmental delay, or decreased intelligence
  • growth problems

Very high levels may cause vomiting, stumbling, muscle weakness, seizures or coma. Abdominal pain (stomach ache) and cramping is usually the first sign of a high, toxic dose of lead poison.

Most lead-poisoned children have NO symptoms. When lead levels are lower, subtle changes can happen in brain function. The child may appear healthy and normal, or may have symptoms like:

  • acting irritable or grouchy
  • behavior problems (like acting hyper or aggressive)
  • learning problems
  • tiredness or weakness
  • low appetite and energy
  • headaches
  • weight loss
  • sleep problems
  • constipation

The only way to diagnose lead poisoning is with a blood lead level test.

How Do I Have My Child Tested?

The doctor will take a small amount of blood from your child’s arm or finger to find out the lead level in your child. If the level of lead in your child’s blood is high, a lead program nurse will inform you of the lead level and discuss further actions. Please review the following State recommendations for testing your child for lead:

Contact your doctor’s office to request the test. If you need resources for medical care call the Health Referral Line at 800-564-8448.

My Child Has an Elevated Lead Level

Depending on your test result, the follow-up time between re-testing may vary. Please consult your provider or the Orange County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program for further information.

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