Common Questions​ ​on Lead Poisoning

What is lead poisoning?

Lead is a toxic metal that has been used in products for centuries. Once it enters the body, lead can accumulate and cause damage. Children can become lead poisoned if they are exposed to lead in their environment. Lead poisoning is usually diagnosed by a blood test from a health care provider.

How do children get lead poisoning?

Children get lead poisoned by inhaling or swallowing small amounts of lead. Lead-based paint is the most common cause of lead poisoning and it is found in many older homes. When lead paint deteriorates, lead dust can contaminate the home and can get on children's hands, toys, bottles, and pacifiers. Lead can come from sources other than lead-based paint, such as from soil or a parent’s worksite. For more detailed information, see Sources of Lead.

What can lead poisoning do to my child?

Children are most vulnerable in the womb through age six because their developing bodies absorb lead easier. Lead can damage the brain, nervous system, and other parts of the body. Lead poisoning can cause delayed growth and development, learning disabilities, decreased intelligence, and hearing damage.  

"There is no safe level of lead in the blood"

It can also lead to behavioral problems, possibly making the child more excitable and less able to concentrate. In extreme cases, it can lead to severe coma and death. Lead poisoning in pregnant women can increase the risk for premature and low-birth weight newborns.

How can I tell if my child has lead poisoning?

Most children with lead poisoning do not have symptoms. A health care provider can perform a blood test to determine how much lead is present. There are two common ways to measure lead in the blood, a capillary blood test and a venous blood test. Any capillary test that is elevated should be confirmed with a venous blood test. 

Which children should be tested for lead?

Some children may be at a higher risk for lead poisoning. If your child is at risk or if you are concerned about lead in your child, have them get a blood lead test. The DHHS Blood Lead Testing Plan helps health care providers decide which children are at risk and should be tested for lead.

Children are considered at a higher risk if they:

  • Are enrolled in Medicaid.
  • Live or often visit a house, daycare or home of a relative built before 1950.
  • Live or visit a house built in pre-1978 homes has been renovated or remodeled within the last year.
  • Have a brother, sister, or playmate with lead poisoning.
  • Lives with a family that use home remedies or cultural practices that may contain or use lead.
  • Are in a special population group, such as foreign adoptees, refugees, migrants, immigrants, and foster care. 

How can I protect my child from lead poisoning?

Find and Remove Sources of Lead:

  • Locate all lead risks in your home or day-care and educate yourself about lead.
  • Clean your house regularly, practice safe housekeeping and yard maintenance.
  • Keep children away from areas where there is chipping and peeling paint or bare soil.
  • Do not allow children to eat paint chips, eat soil, or chew on painted surfaces.
  • Make sure your children eat a well-balanced diet.
  • See Lead Poisoning Prevention Tips for more information on reducing exposures and preventing lead hazards.

Have your child regularly visit a health care provider:

  • If your child is at risk or if you are concerned about lead in your home, ask your child's doctor about blood lead testing. If your child is enrolled in Medicaid, a test is mandatory if your child has never had one, and the cost of the test should be covered. If your child is lead poisoned, have them tested regularly to make sure the lead levels in the blood are not increasing.
  • Qualifying individuals living in Douglas County may be eligible for a free blood test by contacting the Douglas County Health Department at (402) 444-7825.

Can adults be lead poisoned?

Yes, adults can be at risk for lead poisoning, especially if they have a job or hobby involving lead. Adults can bring lead home with them, which can contaminate the house and put children at risk for lead poisoning. For more information, see Adult Lead Poisoning.


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