Lead is such a common toxic pollutant that it’s difficult to predict when, how and if someone has been exposed to it. Although children are a lot more susceptible to the effects of lead poisoning than adults, adults aren’t immune to the effects of overexposure to lead either. Given that the metal can practically be found anywhere, it’s important for everyone to understand a few basics about identifying lead related hazards and symptoms of poisoning.
What is Lead Poisoning?
Overexposure to lead can cause heavy metal poisoning, which occurs when the toxic metal builds up over time, to an unhealthy level in our system. Depending on the source and duration of the lead exposure, as well as the patient’s age, weight and several other medical factors, it may take anything from a few days to a few years for the symptoms and effects to become discernible. Just like other heavy metal toxins such as cadmium and mercury, lead can also affect and damage any and all parts of the human body. However, the kidneys, the liver and the CNS in particular are affected the most.
What are the Symptoms of Lead Poisoning in Adults?
Although children below six years of age are the most vulnerable to health concerns brought on by overexposure to lead, adults too can experience a number of symptoms.
- Infertility and/or impotence
- Miscarriage and possibility of preterm or complicated birth
- Hypertension and headache
- Bipolar disorder
- Sleeping disorders such as insomnia and inability to sleep peacefully
- Cognitive impairments such as memory loss and reduced intellect
- Tingling, painful extremities and/or numbness of the fingers, toes
- Joint pain and carpal tunnel syndrome
- Muscle pain
- Metallic taste on the tongue
Symptoms and Effects Commonly Seen in Children
- Slow development of the body and mind, weight loss
- Poor intelligence, as compared to the standard norm
- Refusing to eat
- Constant lethargy
- Depreciating vision, hearing, sense of touch, smell and taste
- Depreciating muscular-neural links, leading to weakness
- Stomach aches
- Mood swings
- Bluish gums
Effects of Severely Acute Lead Poisoning in Both Children and Adults (Also Seen in Advanced Cases of Long Term Lead Poisoning)
- Severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
- Jaundice and black diarrhea
- Encephalopathy: If not treated immediately after the seizures begin, it can often be lethal
- Renal failure
- Ankle drop
How Can We Stay Safe and Keep Others Away from Lead?
Awareness – Become aware of the hazardous sources and look into identifying lead before it can affect you or your family.
- Lead in paint is still found in residential and commercial real estate, painted before 1978
- Leaded gasoline puts workers in the oil and car repair sites at risk
- Mining fields, battery factories, construction sites, jewelry workshops, etc. are also hazardous, lead-filled environments to work in
- Imported cosmetics have previously been linked with lead poisoning
- Greta and azarcon among other imported herbal meds may have lead in them
- Copper pipes soldered with lead, pure lead pipes and copper-brass plumbing can add heavy metal particles to tap water
- Soil near old homes and roads
- Clay, and pottery made with lead-contaminated clay
- Mexican candy – Leaded tamarind has been found in Mexican candy
Avoidance and Precautions – Now that we know the sources of potential lead hazards in the environment, it’s best to avoid places and activities that are known to cause lead poisoning. Just in case you happen to be working in lead paint removal, auto repair, or in any other setting where lead must be dealt with on a regular basis, necessary precautions must be taken by wearing protective gear and following safety protocols at all times, to avoid lead exposure as best as possible.
The good news is that if your house is safe from lead paint and lead pipes, the chances of getting lead poisoning are minimum for children. There are, of course, other causes of lead poisoning as we discussed, but people who are overexposed to lead on account of environmental hazards outside one’s home or workplace are minuscule.
Image Credit: Poisoning via zimmytws/Shutterstock