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Staying Healthy

Lead Poisoning

Child with hands on windowsill

What is lead poisoning and is your child at risk?

Lead poisoning can occur when your body is exposed to lead. Lead can get into your body by swallowing or inhaling things with lead in them, like dust, paint or polluted water. Small children are especially at risk for lead poisoning because they tend to put their hands in their mouths, chew toys that may have lead paint on them and are known to eat paint chips around windowsills that could have lead dust on them. Make sure your child gets an annual well-care appointment with their primary care provider (PCP). They can provide a simple blood lead test (a finger stick) to detect the level of lead in your child's body.

Know when your child should be tested

  • Your child should be tested for lead poisoning before his/her second birthday – once before 12 months and again before 24 months of age.
  • Your child should be tested for lead poisoning annually if he/she is younger than age 6 and has never been tested or lives in a high-risk area.

A pregnant woman who is exposed to lead can pass it to her unborn baby. Lead can also be passed to a baby through the mother's breast milk. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant and live in a home built prior to 1978, it is recommended you get tested.

Know the symptoms of lead poisoning

Because lead cannot be seen or tasted, and does not have an odor, people usually do not know when they are being exposed. Since small children are at a higher risk for lead poisoning, it is critical to have your child tested. If left untreated, lead poisoning can cause serious health problems. It is extremely harmful to the developing brains of young children and can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

If there has been a long-term exposure to lead, some symptoms you may notice are:

  • Stomachaches, cramping, constipation or diarrhea
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Tooth decay
  • Muscle weakness

The good news: Lead poisoning can be prevented.

Here are a few tips to try at home:

  • If your home was built before 1978, talk to your state or local health department about testing paint and dust from your home for lead.
  • If you live in an older home, wipe all surfaces your child comes in contact with at least once a week with warm, soapy water.
  • Wash your child's hands and toys regularly, especially after playing outside and before meals.
  • Lead can be found in soil, so have your child remove his or her shoes after playing outside.
  • Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable, painted surfaces, such as windowsills.
  • Prepare meals with foods that are high in calcium and iron such as spinach, beans and whole grains. A healthy diet can help keep lead from being absorbed in your child's body.
  • Let cold water run from the faucet for a few minutes in the morning before using it for drinking or cooking. The cold water will wash away any lead that might be in your pipes.
  • Do not allow your child to play with toys that have been recalled because they contain lead.

For a listing of recalled toys, please visit the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission at http://www.cpsc.gov
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