Skip to main content

Lead Poisoning in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning is dangerous levels of lead in your child's blood. Poisoning usually happens when items that contain lead are accidentally inhaled or swallowed. Lead is found in paint, batteries, and gasoline fumes. Lead is easily absorbed and can cause nervous system damage. Lead also replaces calcium in bones. Children younger than 3 years are at a higher risk for lead poisoning than older children or adults. Lead gets more easily to the brain, and more lead is absorbed in young children. Young children are also more likely to put items in their mouths.

What increases my child's risk for lead poisoning?

  • Ingestion of lead-based paint from items such as toys and furniture
  • Pica (eating items that are not food)
  • Not enough iron, calcium, or zinc in his or her blood
  • A hobby that uses lead, such as pottery, stained glass making, and iron crafts
  • Living in an old house or building with lead-based paint and lead pipes
  • Working with or near lead, such as in a mine, sewer, or printing press

What are the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning?

  • Abdominal pain, tenderness, or cramps, vomiting, or constipation
  • Headaches or joint pain
  • Trouble thinking, learning, or paying attention
  • Feeling tired and weak (fatigue) or irritable
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss, or a metal taste in your child's mouth
  • Pale skin, fatigue, muscle weakness, tremors, or paralysis
  • Slow or delayed growth
  • Personality changes, mood swings, and trouble sleeping
  • Seizures or a coma

How is lead poisoning diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may be used to check for lead or signs of lead poisoning, such as anemia (low red blood cells). Blood tests may also show signs of kidney damage.
  • X-rays may show where the lead is, if it was swallowed.

How is lead poisoning treated?

  • Iron may be given to treat anemia. Your child's healthcare provider will tell you how much you should give your child.
  • Vitamins and minerals may be needed. Calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C can help decrease blood levels of lead. Your child's healthcare provider will tell you how much you should give of each.
  • Chelation therapy is medicine that will bind with lead in the blood. The lead will be removed through your child's urine and bowel movements. He or she may need to drink more liquids than usual. Ask how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best for him or her.
  • Medicines may be given for pain or to prevent or control brain swelling or seizures.

What can I do to care for my child?

  • Have your child rest as needed. He or she can start to do more each day.
  • Give your child more liquids to drink. This may help your child's kidneys get rid of the lead. Ask how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best for him or her.
  • Offer your child healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. These may help your child feel better and have more energy. Ask if your child needs to be on a special diet.
    Healthy Foods
  • Work with teachers or officials at your child's school. Your child may have learning or developmental delays. This depends on how much lead he or she was exposed to and how it affected him or her. Trouble thinking, learning, or paying attention may be mistaken for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Your child may be able to work with a tutor or other learning resource.

Where can I find more information?

  • National Lead Information Center
    422 South Clinton Avenue
    Rochester , NY 14620
    Phone: 1- 800 - 424
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has been sleeping more, or has more trouble than usual waking up.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's symptoms get worse, or do not go away.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Lead Poisoning

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.