Pediatrics Common Questions, Quick Answers
Donna D'Alessandro, M.D.
Lindsay Huth, B.A.
Peer Review Status: Internally Reviewed
Creation Date: October 2001
Last Revision Date: April 2002
Common Questions, Quick
What is lead poisoning?
- Lead poisoning is a disease.
What causes lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning happens when children are exposed to too much lead
- eating lead-based paint chips.
- breathing dust from lead-based paint as it is sanded off or
- Taking in dust that has lead in it, usually in an older home.
Children can be poisoned if they put their hands in their mouth
after touching something dusty (such as a toy).
- playing in dirt or sand near an old building or a place where
an old building has been torn down. Dirt could have lead in it as
far as 10 feet from the site. Children who have it on their hands
and toys could get it in their mouths.
Who can get lead poisoning?
Anyone can get lead poisoning but some children are at greater
- Children living in older neighborhoods and homes.
- Children whose mothers were exposed to lead during
- Children who eat a poor diet, especially a diet with little
iron or calcium.
Is my child at risk?
- Lead-based paint is most common in older homes.
- Paint that is cracked, chipped, worn, or rubs off on your
hands could be a risk.
alt="Image of chipped paint"
- Varnish that looks cloudy could have lead in it. Look for
cracks and peeling.
- If your child has a blood level of 20 micrograms per deciliter
(mcg/dl) or two blood tests of 15&endash;19 mcg/dl, your home
should be tested.
- Children at risk should be screened for possible lead
poisoning. Ask your doctor.
What are the effects of lead poisoning?
Most children do not show signs of poisoning. Symptoms may
- easily excited
- can't pay attention
- stomach ache
- tired more than usual
- learning and behavior problems
- kidney damage
- being fussy
- seizures, unconsciousness, death
Is lead poisoning contagious?
- No. Lead poisoning is not contagious.
How is lead poisoning treated?
- If you think your child has lead poisoning, call the
- Blood tests are the only way to know if your child has been
- Your child's blood will be tested for lead. If any lead is
found, more tests will be taken and your child may be given
- If your child has lead poisoning, a public health worker will
teach you how to make your home safe.
How can lead poisoning be prevented?
- Lead poisoning can be prevented.
- Look for peeling paint in places your child spends time. Look
carefully at windows and outdoor play areas. Each week, clean up
paint chips, and dust, mop, and vacuum.
- Keep your child away from chipping paint and dust. Chipping
paint is almost always found around windows.
- Wash your child's hands often, especially before eating. Wash
her toys and pacifier.
- Every person exposed to lead should shower and change clothes
before being with children.
- Feed your children a well-balanced diet. They should eat
fruits, vegetables, milk products, grains, fish, meat, beans,
nuts, and eggs.
- Eating foods with calcium (such as milk, cheese, broccoli,
etc.) and iron (such as beef, ham, green leafy vegetables,
cereals, etc.) is especially good. Check labels for iron and
calcium. Children up to age 10 should get 10 millograms (mg.) of
iron a day and 800 mg. of calcium.
- Run cold water for 1 minute before using it to drink, cook, or
- Ask someone how to safely remove lead-based paint. In Iowa,
call the Iowa Department of Public Health at 515-281-3479 or
When should I call the doctor?
- Call your doctor if you think your children have been exposed
to lead, especially if children are under 6 years old.
- Lead poisoning is a disease.
- Lead poisoning happens when children are exposed to too much
- Children are at greatest risk for getting lead poisoning.
- Lead-based paint is usually found in older homes. Paint that
is cracked, chipped, or worn is a risk.
- Symptoms may include getting easily excited, having a short
attention span, stomachache, tiredness, learning and behavior
problems, kidney damage, diarrhea, and seizures.
- ead poisoning is not contagious.
- Call your doctor or a health clinic if you think your child
has lead poisoning.
- Keep children away from chipping paint both indoors and
- Call your doctor if you think your child has been exposed to
lead, especially if she is under 6 years old.
- Iowa Department of Public Health. Lead Poisoning: How to
Protect Iowa's Children. Pediatrics. 1993 (cited 2001 September
14). Available from: URL:
- Iowa Department of Public Health. Is Your Home Lead Safe?
Pediatrics. 1994 June (cited 2001 September 14). Available from:
- Pearse AJ. and Mitchell MC. Nutrition and Childhood Lead
Poisoning. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. (cited 2001
September 14). Available from: URL:
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