Lead poisoning is a serious condition that occurs when lead builds up in the body. The metal can accumulate over months or even years, and even small amounts of it can lead to health complications, especially for children under the age of 6. Lead poisoning can even be fatal in extreme cases.
In 2015, after lead was allegedly found in Maggi instant noodles in India, it was reported that in an analysis of blood samples from across the country collected during one year, over 23% of the samples tested positive for lead poisoning. The same Economic Times article mentioned that the World Health Organization estimates that about 1,43,000 deaths per year are caused by lead exposure. The highest burden falls on developing regions.
“Lead poisoning can be hard to detect even people who look healthy can have high levels of lead. At high levels of exposure, lead damages the brain and central nervous system and can lead to coma, convulsions and even death. Signs and symptoms of lead poisoning usually don’t appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated,” says Sandeep Warghade, who was involved with the study and is a medical doctor and consulting pathologist at Metropolis Healthcare, a Mumbai hospital.
Warghade added that lead poisoning cases in young children are high as they tend to lick or eat lead-containing paint when it peels off the walls or while playing with toys.
Lead poisoning is most commonly seen in children exposed to lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust. Other causes include tainted air, water and soil.
Sometimes your workplace could also expose you to lead. This is more likely the case if you work in auto repair shops, engage in home renovations or work with batteries.
Symptoms of lead poisoning don’t usually show up until high and dangerous amounts of lead have accumulated in the body. Symptoms among children include developmental delay, learning difficulties, diminished appetite, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, stomach pain, constipation, hearing loss and vomiting.
In adults, symptoms include stomach pain, constipation, muscle and joint ache, slow mental functioning, pain or numbness in the extremities, memory lapses, headache, lowered sperm count or abnormal sperm in men and miscarriage or premature birth in women who are pregnant.
If you or your child are suffering from the symptoms listed above and think that you may have lead poisoning, it is important that you see your doctor as soon as possible. If the health professional you consult believes you could be at risk from lead poisoning, he or she can recommend a blood test to determine the lead levels in your blood.
Some sources of lead exposure include
Paint: Many homes and apartments could have lead-based paint on the walls. Small children could ingest lead by eating paint chips.
Water pipes: Lead pipes and pipes soldered with lead could potentially discharge lead particles into the water the pipes carry into your home.
Soil: Though not very common, lead particles can also be found in soil, especially around highways. Soil that is near walls of older homes could contain lead particles too.
Toys: Always buy good quality toys for your children. Lead has been found in poor quality toys and other cheap products.
Cosmetics: Buying good quality cosmetics is also very important. Tests have shown that many samples of kohl seemed to have high levels of lead in it.
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