How to know when to test your child for lead poisoning

The frightening thing about lead poisoning is that there aren’t any specific symptoms.

Jodi Perras, executive director of Improving Kids’ Environment in Indianapolis, says the outward symptoms are often typical behaviors in children anyway.

“It can be one of those things where your child may not be feeling very well but you think it’s a stomach ache or a cold,” she says. “The symptoms can be related to a lot of different things. Until you get your child’s blood tested, you really don’t know for sure.”

Symptoms can vary from learning disabilities to abdominal pain or in extreme cases, seizures or death, according to Dr. John C. Ellis, MD. FAAP, medical director for Managed Health Services in Indianapolis.

To determine if your child should be tested for lead poisoning, regular evaluations of risk factors should be done. If any of these factors are present, get a blood test:

  • Is your child living in or visiting a house or child care center built before 1978?
  • Do they have a sibling or playmate who has been lead poisoned?
  • Do they have contact with an adult who is in a lead related industry?

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control have identified several groups that are at a higher risk of lead exposure than other children. According to the CDC, children who are poor, are members of racial ethnic minority groups or are recent immigrants are more likely to have higher levels of lead. Minority groups and cultural factors can affect the child due to an increased likelihood of coming into contact with traditional medicines, products or cosmetics that may contain lead.

However, those groups are not the only ones. One of the problems is that the risk for affluent families is underestimated. Some physicians may have been told that their patients are not in danger. “But everyone’s patient population is at risk,” says Ellis. “Old homes and urban areas are often very popular. Affluent families can have lead poisoned kids as well.”

“Ideally, the doctor should be bringing these questions up and screening the kids at 1 year and 2 years,” says Ellis. If your doctor doesn’t, you should push for your child to be evaluated. “Be persistent,” he advises.

Consult your local health department for more information on the evaluation programs available, or visit for more information.

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