Parents and Guardians - Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning happens when children have too much lead in their bodies. It’s usually caused when toddlers come into contact with lead-based paint chips or lead dust found in homes built before 1978.

Who Gets Lead Poisoning?

Lead is toxic to everyone, but unborn babies and young children (6 months to 3 years) have more risk of exposure to lead than older children. Young children absorb lead more easily than older kids and adults, and lead is more harmful to them. A child's quickly growing body can be harmed by even small amounts of lead.

It is very normal for young children to put things in their mouths. Eating lead paint chips and lead dust is a very common cause of lead poisoning in young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children are at a higher risk for lead exposure if they:

  • are low income or poor
  • are members of racial-ethnic minority groups
  • are recent immigrants
  • live in older, poorly maintained rental properties
  • have parents who are exposed to lead at work

Why Is Lead Harmful?

Lead is highly toxic and can cause developmental delays, learning difficulties, headaches and more. Even small amounts of lead can harm a child. CDC states there is no safe levels of lead in a child’s system.

How Do Children Get Lead Poisoning?

The most common way that kids get lead poisoning is from lead-based paint. This type of paint was used in many U.S. homes until the late 1970s, when the government banned the use of paint containing lead in houses.

Young children are also very active and like to explore. A child can crawl on the floor and reach windows, walls, railings or doors. All of these areas can be sources of peeling and chipping lead-based paint or leaded dust. Even toys and food that have fallen on the floor can be coated with lead dust. Children can also be exposed to lead when they:

  • put soil contaminated with lead in their mouth
  • eat food stored in bowls glazed or painted with lead, or imported from countries that use lead to seal canned food
  • play with toys or jewelry that contain lead
  • come into contact with a parent or guardian with a job or hobby where lead is used
  • live in a home where cultural practices, remedies or products that contain lead are used
  • drink water that flows through old lead soldered pipes or faucets

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Lead Poisoning?

Most children have no signs of being sick. Others may have symptoms like:

  • headaches
  • behavioral problems and trouble concentrating
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation
  • a metallic taste in the mouth
  • feeling tired
  • muscle and joint weakness
  • looking pale

How Is Lead Poisoning Diagnosed?

A simple blood test can diagnose lead poisoning. Doctors get the blood by pricking the finger or putting a small needle into a vein. IDPH recommends children be tested early and often for lead.  At a minimum, blood tests to check for lead in the body should be done when children are 1 and 2 years in age.

How Is Lead Poisoning Treated?

Treatment for lead poisoning depends on how much lead is in the blood. The most important part of treatment is preventing more exposure to lead. A child with a small amount of lead can often reduce the level of lead in their bodies through proper nutrition, good housekeeping, and washing of child’s face and hands before eating and bedtime. The body will naturally get rid of the lead if these practices are put in place.

Children with severe cases and extremely high lead levels in their blood may be hospitalized to get a medicine called a chelator. The chelator binds to the lead and makes it easier for the body to get rid of lead naturally.

How Can We Protect Our Family?

Parents can protect children from lead poisoning by:

  • Keeping your home lead-free. Use a checklist to help you look for lead hazards in your home or ask your local health department about what to look for when checking your home for lead sources.
  • Asking your doctor about having your children tested for lead exposure. If a child has lead poisoning, all children in the home should be tested.
  • Washing your children’s hands and toys often with soap and water. Always wash hands before eating and sleeping.
  • Keeping dusty surfaces clean using a wet cloth or paper towel and soap and water. Make sure to wash cleaning rags often to remove the lead dust.
  • Feeding your child foods high in calcium, iron and vitamin C. If kids are exposed to lead, good nutrition may reduce the amount of lead absorbed by their bodies. Eating regular meals is helpful because less lead is absorbed by the body.
  • Knowing where your kids play. Keep them away from windows with chipping and peeling paint, and bare soil around homes and in play areas.
  • Finding out if your pipes contain lead. Old plumbing may include lead. If your neighborhood has old lead water pipes going to homes or if you have plumbing with copper pipes and lead solder, you may want to get your water tested. For information on testing your water, contact the Iowa State Laboratory at 800-421-4692.

Where Can I Get my Child Tested?

Talk to your healthcare provider to request a blood lead test for your child. Some community agencies or the local health department may also offer lead testing as part of their services.

What if my Landlord Won’t Fix Lead Hazards Where I Live?

Contact your municipal housing agency or local public health department to find out if they have a rental maintenance or lead hazard repair ordinance in place to address lead hazards in rental properties.


For more information on lead poisoning contact us at 1-800-972-2026 or online at Contact Us.