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Lead poisoning occurs whenever a child’s level of lead in their body exceeds the current limit of 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Remember that this is a rather arbitrary guideline; no amount of lead is known to be safe. But this is the level at which lead is considered to be a problem.

There are two different types (or degrees) of lead poisoning:

“Mild” cases of lead poisoning (chronic exposure)

It feels wrong to call any amount of lead poisoning mild, but this just means that children are exposed in small doses over extended periods of time. The amounts are too small to provoke any sudden or noticeable symptoms in most cases, yet large enough to pose a significant health risk. Most lead poisoning is of this variety.

Acute or toxic lead poisoning

In high enough doses, lead can cause serious and almost immediate symptoms such as stomach pains, crippling headaches, or vomiting. It can also lead to serious consequences, putting a child in a coma, causing severe brain damage or even death. while cases of acute lead poisoning in children are rare, they do happen. Usually it occurs because children swallow something that contains lead. For example, we know of children who were hospitalized, put in a coma, or even killed after ingesting lead-based jewelry or charms or an old toy laced with lead. Parents need to be especially careful with small toys or knickknacks that come from China or which were made before the 1970s.

Causes of lead poisoning
The most common sources of lead poisoning in children are lead-based paint, house dust, water and contaminated soil. Other sources can include toys, imported spices or even food and candy. (Ridel, 2012)

Signs & symptoms of lead poisoning

There aren’t always immediate signs of lead poisoning; in fact there typically aren’t. There’s often a large lag time between exposure and symptoms, which can appear 3 to 5 years down the road. (Anderson, 1-18-2016) This is why it’s best to have a child tested regularly. That said, here are some of the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning:

  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Behavioral changes
  • Distraction
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression

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