About Lead Poisoning
If you have young kids, it's important to find out whether there's any risk that they might be exposed to lead, especially if you live in an older home.
Long-term exposure to lead, a naturally occurring metal used in everything from construction materials to batteries, can cause serious health problems, particularly in young kids. Lead is toxic to everyone, but unborn babies and young children are at greatest risk for health problems from lead poisoning — their smaller, growing bodies make them more susceptible to absorbing and retaining lead.
Each year in the United States 310,000 1- to 5-year-old kids are found to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms, from headaches and stomach pain to behavioral problems and anemia (not enough healthy red blood cells). Lead can also affect a child's developing brain.
The good news is that you can protect your family from lead poisoning. If you have kids between 6 months and 3 years of age, talk to your doctor about potential lead sources in your house or anywhere they spend long periods of time.
And it's important for kids to get tested for lead exposure at age 1 and again at age 2, as many with lead poisoning don't show any symptoms.
Why Is Lead Harmful?
When the body is exposed to lead — by being inhaled, swallowed, or in a small number of cases, absorbed through the skin — it can act as a poison. Exposure to high levels of lead in a short period of time is called acute toxicity. Exposure to small amounts of lead over a long period of time is called chronic toxicity.
Lead is particularly dangerous because once it gets into a person's system, it is distributed throughout the body just like helpful minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc. And lead can cause harm wherever it lands in the body. In the bloodstream, for example, it can damage red blood cells and limit their ability to carry oxygen to the organs and tissues that need it, thus causing anemia.
Most lead ends up in the bone, where it causes even more problems. Lead can interfere with the production of blood cells and the absorption of calcium that bones need to grow healthy and strong. Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, muscle contraction, and nerve and blood vessel function.
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