While many parents outfit their homes with the latest child safety gadgets, there is one big threat to children that often goes overlooked or ignored: lead poisoning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood lead poisoning is one of the most preventable environmental diseases, but unfortunately, approximately half a million children in the U.S. have blood lead levels high enough that they require intervention. And, it should be noted, many scientists feel that the CDC’s numbers significantly underestimate the magnitude of the problem in the U.S.
Long-term exposure to lead has severe consequences such as damage to developing brains, livers, kidneys and bones — in fact, when it comes to children, there is virtually no organ system that is immune to the damaging effects of lead poisoning. Yet many families don’t even think to have their homes or their children tested for lead.
“The most common symptom is no symptom at all,” Tamara Rubin, Executive Director of Lead Safe America and the force behind the documentary “MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic,” tells SheKnows. “That’s why it’s super important that all kids get tested and that everyone tests their home.”
That said, some kids do show signs of lead poisoning, so it’s important to be aware of what to look for. Rubin explains that there are two types of exposure to lead: acute and chronic.
Acute exposure means that a child has been exposed to a significant amount of lead all at once. Symptoms of acute exposure can mimic those of the flu, but with no accompanying fever. Gastrointestinal issues are usually a red flag, including both constipation and diarrhea, lack of appetite, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Chronic exposure is an accumulation that occurs over a period of months – from being exposed to lead in the house or elsewhere. Since lead can poison a variety of systems in the body, it can be tricky to know what to look for. However, the three main types of chronic lead poisoning symptoms are gastrointestinal, neuromuscular and neurological.
Young kids are at greatest risk because they’re usually exploring with their hands and mouths while on the floor, as well as having smaller, developing bodies that can be damaged more intensely than an already developed adult. According to Rubin, the best thing to do if you’re concerned about lead hazards in your home is to test for lead, as well as order a simple blood test to check your or your child’s lead levels.
There are two types of blood tests available. One is a finger-prick test that is relatively cheap, that many doctors can do in a clinic with immediate results. The other is a blood draw that is a bit more expensive and takes a few days for results.
While ensuring that children remain lead-free is a priority, it’s important to remember that lead poisoning can impact everyone, reminds Rubin. Lead poisoning in adults can cause infertility, miscarriage and low birth weight in newborns. To check your home for lead and to learn more about the dangers surrounding it, you can head to Lead Safe America to request a testing kit.
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