Straight, No Chaser: Prevention and Treatment of Lead Poisoning

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What you need to know about protecting yourself from lead poisoning and its effects is reducible to awareness, baseline testing, prevention and treatment.

We covered what you needed for awareness in the previous Straight, No Chaser.

However your goal really should be prevention via avoidance, as much as is possible. However, to prevent, you must have a level of awareness. Think about these things:

  • Do you have a child in your house between ages 6 months and 3 years old? If so, be reminded that children wander around putting things in their mouths.
  • Do you live in an old house or have old plumbing?
  • Do you live near a busy road or near bridges?

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If you are in a high-risk situation, your ideal level of awareness should include preventive considerations such as getting your home tested and your blood lead level checked. If anyone in the home has been found to have high lead levels, the entire household should be checked.

Whatever your level of exposure, you want to engage in preventive strategies to prevent further exposure that could lead to disease. Here are a few quick tips to do so:

  • Avoid dust in your home, because you just never know!
  • Wash everyone’s hands prior to eating.
  • Throw away old painted toys, unless you’re sure lead based paint was not used.
  • Use filters for your water, switch to bottled water for drinking and cooking, and/or let any tap water run for approximately one minute prior to drinking or cooking with it.
  • Avoid storing wines in lead crystal decanters for long periods of time.

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Treatment:

If you have been found to have any significant levels of lead in your blood, you have a role in your treatment. If your levels and symptoms are significant enough to be hospitalized, that will occur and you’ll receive medicine that facilitates the removal of lead from the body, called chelating agents. However, in the absence of that, your job likely will be to maintain a healthy diet that includes calcium, iron and Vitamin C, all of which help decrease lead absorption within the body.

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Prognosis:

As mentioned, you want to avoid lead poisoning. Each year in the United States, 310,000 kids aged 1-5 years old are found to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood. In these children, even mild lead poisoning can have a permanent impact on attention and IQ. Remember, the developing brain is more susceptible to the toxic effects of lead. Those with higher lead levels have a greater risk of long-lasting health problems and must be closely followed because of the potential damage to the brain, nervous system, muscles and other systems. Adults who have had mildly high lead levels often recover without problems, but in general, a complete recovery from chronic lead poisoning may take months to years.

If you suspect you may have lead paint in your house, get advice on safe removal from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 800-RID-LEAD, or the National Information Center at 800-LEAD-FYI. Another excellent source of information is the National Lead Information Center at (800) 424-5323.

If you suspect you or someone in your family is suffering from the effects of lead, call 911 immediately and/or call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center for further instructions while you await the paramedics to arrive.

Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at jeffreysterlingbooks.com, iTunes, AmazonBarnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.

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