Lead is a toxic metal. Poisoning occurs when there is too much lead in your body. Lead enters our body through breathing and swallowing any substances which contains it.Some examples of where lead can be found includes water pipes and water as well as food, paint, dust and soil. Lead damages almost every organ in the human body. It is stored in teeth and bones, and the levels tend to accumulate over time.
Lead toxicity is rare after a single exposure, but builds up slowly after repeated exposures to small quantities. Children below six years old, pregnant women and nursing mothers are at greatest risk. It is common that small amounts of lead are present in most people.
SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
- Abdominal pain/cramps
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- High blood pressure
- Sleep disturbance
- Neurological disorders (coordination, mobility issues, blindness, memory loss)
- Discolouration of teeth and nails
- Pain, numbness or tingling of arms and legs
o Aggression/Mood disorders
- Muscle and joint pains
o Reduced/Abnormal sperm count in men
- Kidney problems
- Pale due to low red blood cell count (Anaemia)
CHILDREN AND BABIES MAY ALSO SHOW (EVEN AT LOW LEVELS OF EXPOSURE):
- Hearing loss
- Loss of developmental skills
- Growth disorders (bone development)
- At high levels of exposure: Coma, seizures and even death
- Miscarriage or premature birth
WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS?
ADULTS: Damages to the brain and nervous system, stomach, bones and kidneys. It also causes high blood pressure.
CHILDREN: (Similar to adults) Together with serious effects on growth and development, such as mental and growth retardation through the damages to the brain and nervous system, hearing, learning and behaviour.
WHAT CAN BE DONE AFTER EXPOSURE?
DOCTOR CONSULTATION AND INVESTIGATION:
There will be a detailed history and physical examination.
Lead poisoning is diagnosed by a blood test, which is performed as a standard blood taking procedure in a clinic.
Adults with mild to moderate exposure usually recover without any complications.
For severe poisoning, a medical drug treatment called Chelation Therapy can be used to bind lead in the body for excretion, or you may be admitted into the hospital for further management.
In general, it is difficult to reverse the effects of chronic exposure to lead. Recovery for children can take a long time.
PREVENTION OF LEAD CONTAMINATION IN HOME WATER SYSTEMS:
- Locate and remove the source i.e. get your water tested and change your water system- contact your local health department.
- Clean your faucets regularly.
- Consider a water-filtering device which can filter lead from your drinking water. Boiling your water does not get rid of lead!
- Do not consume water that has been sat in your home plumbing for over six hours. Always run your water before using.
- Use only cold water for food preparation. You can also use bottled water.
- In case of other external sources of lead contamination, ensure frequent hand washing and household hygiene.
- Eat a healthy diet- Regular, healthy and nutritious meals can lower lead absorption.