Worried About Lead Exposure? How Can You Test And Treat Your Child?

Media coverage of the Flint water crisis has brought attention to a problem that has affected humans for centuries -- the chronic, long-term effects of childhood lead exposure. While many children in Flint suffered lead poisoning due to corroded supply pipes that released lead into the water supply, those who live in older homes with flaky, peeling paint or who tend to chew on toys made in countries without strict environmental regulations could also be at risk. Read on to learn more about the signs of lead exposure, as well as what you should do if you're concerned your child has ingested lead paint, lead-contaminated water, or other source of this heavy metal.

What are some signs your child has been exposed to lead?

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone -- so if you begin noticing changes in your child's behavior or personality that can't be attributed to school stress, a change in diet, or other environmental factors, a visit to the pediatrician may be able to help you narrow down the cause.

Lead exposure first tends to strike the digestive system, causing your child to suffer stomachaches, vomiting, or loss of appetite. He or she may not even want to drink juice or water. These flu-like symptoms can become compounded by fatigue and loss of energy, often causing the early signs of lead poisoning to be attributed to another illness.

If lead exposure continues, this heavy metal will settle and accumulate in various organs, including the kidneys, liver, and brain. This can lead to jaundice (a yellow cast to the skin that indicates the liver is not functioning properly), behavioral changes, and dark-colored urine. 

What should you do if your child is diagnosed with elevated levels of lead in his or her blood? 

Being told your child has been exposed to lead can be a gut-wrenching blow. You may be concerned about long-term health consequences and worry that your child has already suffered brain damage that could affect his or her ability to do well in school or even find employment as an adult. 

Fortunately, early diagnosis by your pediatrician can help you get a jump-start on treatment to remove lead from the blood. Depending upon your child's age, general health, and the concentration of lead in his or her blood, either chelation therapy (a process where the blood is removed and "cleaned" of lead, then returned to the body) or a gastric flush can help quickly eliminate the majority of the lead from the bloodstream, reducing symptoms and the risks of long-term lead exposure.