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Lead Contamination Poses Threat to Both Children and Adults

Children often show symptoms much earlier than adults

MASON, Ohio (June 8, 2017) – Lead is a naturally occurring mineral that has many positive uses in our world, but becomes toxic when children ingest or adults are exposed to it.

Lead poses a threat to both children and adults, however, the time over which the exposure does its damage can vary as well as the effect it has on a person’s body. The effect on a child can come on much quicker than an adult and often leads to more severe symptoms. Adults usually become affected by lead through a series of exposures and can develop symptoms that are much more vague and harder to diagnosis, said Kristine Sun, MD, a family physician with Premier Family Care of Mason.

“Kids are the ones we often worry most about because they are constantly putting things in their mouth,” said Dr. Sun, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “As a result, they have a much higher chance of accidentally eating lead.”

Children can ingest lead by eating paint that contains the mineral. This is why children who live in homes older than 1978 should always be tested for lead. It’s also recommended that families who are moving into homes built prior to that year should have it tested for the presence of the mineral.

Exposure to lead is a serious matter for children since its main impact on the body is neurological – a part of a child’s body that is still developing at a younger age.

“Lead is toxic in a body and really affects the way the brain grows,” Dr. Sun said. “Children who have been exposed to lead will show behavior changes such as decreased IQ or issues such as ADHD. Some children even develop hearing issues because the nerves in their auditory canals don’t develop properly.”

A common yet often ambiguous sign of lead poisoning in children is abdominal pain, she said.

“As the lead gets stuck in the GI system, a lot of kids complain that their belly hurts,” she said. “That’s often how we first hear about it. Lead is a naturally occurring mineral, but the body is unable to eliminate it. An X-ray will reveal the presence of lead in a child’s stomach.”

Lead exposure and subsequent symptoms usually take place over a matter of weeks or months for children whereas for adults it can be months to decades. Symptoms for adults include irritability, mood changes, and memory issues. Some individuals may complain of a headache, weakness or lack of coordination. 

“It’s much more difficult to diagnose in adults because, as you can imagine, those symptoms can point to many different things,” Dr. Sun said. “Many times lead is the last thing we check for in adults.”

Lead often leaves long-lasting symptoms, which is why reducing the risk of exposure is so important. Dr. Sun recommends individuals take the following steps to avoid lead contamination:


  • Screen for sources – Those who live in or are moving into a home built prior to 1978 should have it tested for lead. Prior to that date, materials such as paint were not federally regulated to prevent the presence of lead. 
  • Renovate wisely – Work on older homes should be done carefully. Isolate the area being work on and keep younger children at a safe distance. Don’t allow babies to crawl on floors that may contain dust from the renovation.
  • Wash hands regularly – Make it a regular habit to wash toddler’s hands in cold water prior to eating anything. Warm water tends to leach out lead from older pipes.
  • Inspect everyday products – Women should consider the ingredients in their makeup. Lipsticks with glitter may contain small traces of lead. Likewise, family heirlooms such as crystal glasses with specs of metal or antique tableware may contain traces of the mineral.


For more information on lead contamination or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit


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