My pediatrician says that my three and one-half year old needs a blood test for lead. She has not been exposed to lead nor does she display any symptoms. Is this really necessary?
Lead poisoning, while less frequently seen than 15 years ago, is a problem that should be taken seriously and all children should be screened.
The lead poisoned child can be entirely without symptoms or may just show subtle signs like decreased appetite or slight difficulty concentrating. The more we learn about lead's effects on the body the more we realize it has no business being there.
High levels of lead ingested by a child cross from the blood to the brain causing irreversible damage. Levels we thought were probably safe 20 years age have now been shown to affect a child's ability to think and learn.
Unfortunately, none of us walk around with a perfect lead level of zero, since it contaminates our air through leaded gasoline products, our dirt as lead settles down from the air, and our older homes since household paint, until the 1970s, contained lead.
What all this means is the act of living in our society puts us all at risk of being contaminated with lead, but is the growing brain under six years of age that seems particularly vulnerable. Many pediatricians, myself included, screen our patients yearly from the age of one to six, hoping to see a level under 10ug/dl. Children found to have very high levels can be treated with agents that bind the lead, and even children with levels only slightly above 10 should have their homes inspected for lead sources. This is a situation where a teaspoon of blood (literally) is a worthwhile donation in exchange for some important information.