Your child's health care provider may recommend that your child be tested for lead levels during routine check-ups. Generally, this testing happens at ages 1 and 2. Lead screening also might be recommended for older children who haven't been tested.
A simple blood test can detect lead poisoning. A small blood sample is taken from a finger prick or from a vein. Lead levels in the blood are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL).
There is no safe blood level of lead. However, a level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) is used to indicate a possibly unsafe level for children. Children whose blood tests at those levels should be tested periodically. A child whose levels become too high — generally 45 mcg/dL or higher — should be treated.
The first step in treating lead poisoning is to remove the source of the contamination. If you can't remove lead from your environment, you might be able to reduce the likelihood that it will cause problems.
For instance, sometimes it's better to seal in rather than remove old lead paint. Your local health department can recommend ways to identify and reduce lead in your home and community.
For children and adults with relatively low lead levels, simply avoiding exposure to lead might be enough to reduce blood lead levels.
Treating higher levels
For more-severe cases, your doctor might recommend:
- Chelation therapy. In this treatment, a medication given by mouth binds with the lead so that it's excreted in urine. Chelation therapy might be recommended for children with a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater and adults with high blood levels of lead or symptoms of lead poisoning.
- ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) chelation therapy. Health care providers treat adults with lead levels greater than 45 mcg/dL of blood and children who can't tolerate the drug used in conventional chelation therapy most commonly with a chemical called calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA). EDTA is given by injection.
Preparing for your appointment
If you think you or your child has been exposed to lead, see your health care provider or contact your local public health department. A blood test can help determine blood lead levels.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
Make a list of:
- Symptoms or behavior changes you've noticed
- Key personal information, including where you live and whether you or your child has been close to any sources of lead
- All medications, vitamins or supplements you or your child takes, including doses
- Questions to ask your provider
For lead poisoning, basic questions to ask your provider include:
- What's likely causing these symptoms?
- What tests are needed?
- Is this condition likely temporary or chronic?
- What's the best course of action?
- Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Your health care provider is likely to ask you questions, including:
- Have you recently moved to a different home or changed schools?
- When was your house built? Are you renovating?
- Do you have a new job that might expose you to lead?
- Does your child have a sibling or playmate who has had lead poisoning?
Jan 21, 2022
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- Lead FAQs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/faqs/lead-faqs.htm. Accessed Nov. 11, 2021.
- Sample JA. Childhood lead poisoning: Management. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
- Markowitz M. Lead poisoning: An update. Pediatrics in Review. 2021; doi:10.1542/pir.2020-0026.
- Lead poisoning. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health. Accessed Nov. 11, 2021.
- Goldman RH, et al. Lead exposure and poisoning in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
- Protect your family from sources of lead. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-sources-lead. Accessed Nov. 11, 2021.
- Sample JA. Childhood lead poisoning: Exposure and prevention. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
- What are possible health effects from lead exposure? Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/leadtoxicity/physiological_effects.html. Accessed Nov. 11, 2021.
- Ferri FF. Lead poisoning. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2022. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 22, 2021.