Get The Lead Out: Childproofing Your Home
Posted 1/12/2016 by UHBlog
Lead poisoning in children is a serious health problem that can lead to developmental and physical problems, but the news isn’t all doom and gloom.
“We’re still seeing kids with lead in their bloodstream, but most of the kids have low levels that don’t require treatment,” says pediatrician Laura Caserta, MD. “There’s no safe blood level and ideally everyone would have zero. But the number of kids with extremely high levels is slowly decreasing because people are more aware of the hazards.”
When lead, which is a heavy metal, enters the bloodstream, it can cause a number of symptoms. Lower levels may lead to developmental issues, which hinder learning, or anemia, which occurs when lead interferes with the absorption of dietary iron. Extremely high levels may alter a child’s mental status. When they become adults, lead-exposed individuals have a higher risk of developing kidney disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
Lead exposure most commonly occurs when youngsters ingest chips of lead paint, which is no longer on the market, or soil that has been contaminated by lead gas. Residue from lead paint or soil can find its way into the mouth of a child who has either sucked on a lead-exposed toy or household item or placed her fingers in her mouth after touching a contaminated item.
Unfortunately, most children with lead in their bloodstream don’t exhibit symptoms until the levels reach an extreme level. That’s why it’s important for kids to get a simple blood test at a young age.
“In Cleveland we test everybody,” Dr. Caserta says. “Ohio Medicaid requires us to test at 12 months and 24 months, but because most of our patients live in high-risk zip codes with a probability of lead in the soil, the recommendation is to check every year from age 1 to 6.”
If tests reveal a lead level higher than 40, doctors recommend chelation – the process of removing lead from the bloodstream. Chelation can be achieved through shots, intravenously or oral medications.
“If lead levels are lower, then a home inspection is done and the source of lead can be removed,” Dr. Caserta says. “In some cases, the family would need to be relocated. Having a healthy diet rich in iron can also help.”
Dr. Caserta says there are ways to reduce your child’s lead exposure risk. These include:
- Knowing whether you live in a high-risk zip code. Public health officials say that no city or state has entirely eliminated lead exposure. Locally, the city of Cleveland’s website lists neighborhoods containing homes built before 1978, when lead paint was banned. The city has an inspection program to assess your home’s risk and help remove lead, if needed. Dr. Caserta cautions some of the inner-ring suburbs’ older homes may also contain lead paint, so those residents should look into getting home inspections, too.
- Steering kids away from areas where they could encounter lead paint. Toddler-height window sills and porches are red-flag spots. Covering painted and chipping porches with a play mat adds one layer of protection.
- Minimizing the chances of tracking lead into the house. Require kids to leave their shoes outside before entering the house, then wipe their feet as they step in. It’s also prudent to wipe your dog's or cat’s paws. Make sure youngsters wash their hands after playing outside, especially if they’re going to have a snack.
- Cleaning loose paint chips. Use a wet mop or rag to pick up chips. A dry duster or broom spreads residue.
- Painting. Remove lead paint and encapsulate the area with cleaner, modern paint.
- Purifying your house. Install a HEPA filter to remove dust particles.
Laura Caserta, MD is a pediatrician at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's. You can request an appointment with Dr. Caserta or any other University Hospitals doctor online.