Lead Poisoning in Adults

Lead poisoning occurs when an individual is exposed to lead for a long period of time. It may be absorbed through breathing or swallowing a substance that contains lead. In this article, we will discuss important information about lead, its sources, the dangers that it carries, and the treatment options for lead poisoning cases.

Background on Lead Poisoning

First things first, let’s get one truth clear: Lead does not serve any purpose in the body. Therefore, even a small amount of lead can cause lead toxicity which can affect the normal function of the different organs of the body. Lead has been identified as one of the 10 chemicals that cause major health public concern.

What could be alarming is how children can be very vulnerable to such poisoning which can affect both mental and physical development. High levels of lead can be very fatal.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), there are about 853,000 deaths due to the long-term effects of lead exposure in 2013. This was mostly common in low and middle income countries. The estimated lead exposure was found to affect global burden of idiopathic intellectual disability at 9.3%, ischemic heart disease at 4% and stroke by 6.6%.

What is Lead?

Lead is a chemical element that has a bluish-white color that turns into dull gray upon exposure to air. It is a soft and heavy metal. It is one of the metals of antiquity as it is known to be used by prehistoric people from Western Asia.

Lead production became prominent during the Industrial Revolution. Lead is now being produced around 10 tons annually.

The properties of lead are as follows:

  • High density
  • Low melting point
  • Ductility
  • Relative inertness to conduction

Considering that the abundance and its low cost, it has been widely used in building constructions, weight solders, fusible alloys, batteries and for radiation shielding.

It was in the late 19th century when lead was discovered to be poisonous. As a result, it was being phased out for many applications.

Approximately 1.3 million tons of lead is used yearly in solder, pottery, batteries, paint and other substances. It is believed that about 600,000 tons per year go into the atmosphere, from the food that we eat to our surroundings, thereby exposing us to higher doses of lead.

What are the sources of lead?

Lead is found in lead-based paints used in painting the walls of old houses as well as on children’s toys. This can also be found in art supplies, gasoline products and contaminated dust.

Although many countries have stopped using products with leads, still lead can be found in our everyday lives:

  • Traditional ethnic medicine or folk medicine
  • House paints made before 1978
  • Storage batteries
  • Toys and household items painted before 1975
  • Jewelry, pottery and figurines
  • Toys made and painted outside the United States
  • Paint sets and art supplies
  • Bullets, fishing sinkers made of lead
  • Soil polluted by car exhaust
  • Pipe and drinking faucets, which can contaminate drinking water
  • Lead soldering
  • Moonshine whiskeys
  • Ceramic ware

People who are likely to be exposed with lead are:

  • Cable splicers
  • Construction workers
  • Auto repairers
  • Bridge construction workers
  • Foundry workers
  • Steel workers
  • Painters
  • Remodelers and refinishers
  • Firing range instructors and cleaners

Effects of Lead Poisoning

Lead can affect the different organs in the body to varying degrees. The amount of lead exposure depends on the frequency and severity of exposure.

Accumulation of lead in soft tissues and bones can cause brain disorders and damage to the nervous system. It has also been found out to cause blood disorders. Lead can damage red blood cells and may limit their ability to carry oxygen to different organs and tissues which can cause anemia. Lead can interfere with the production of blood cells as well as the absorption of calcium that is needed for bone growth.

Lead exposure can lead to the following health dangers:

a. Blood Synthesis

  • Anemia
  • Erythrocyte Protoporphyrin elevation

b. Gastrointestinal Effects

  • Colic
  • Constipation
  • Dyspepsia
  • Lead line on gingival tissue

c. Neurologic Effects

  • Encephalopathy
  • Fatigue
  • Hearing loss
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Wrist/Foot drop

d. Renal Effects

  • Chronic Neuropathy with proximal damage
  • Hypertension

e. Reproductive Effects

  • Abnormal sperm
  • Miscarriages/Stillbirth
  • Reduced Sperm count and motility

f. Others

  • Arthralgia
  • Myalgia

Less severe neurological and behavioral in lead-exposed workers with a lead level of 40-120 ug/dL may experience the following symptoms:

  • Mood changes
  • Diminished hand dexterity
  • Decreased libido
  • Diminished reaction time
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impotence
  • Impotence
  • Malaise
  • Paresthesia
  • Weakness

Lead Levels

Here are the different lead levels in the body and our physiological reaction to them:

Level Effect on Body
10-25 ug/dL Lead is building up in the body and some exposure is occurring.
25049 ud/dL Regular exposure occurring with some evidence of potential physiologic problems
40-80 ug/dL Serious health damage may be occurring (even without symptoms)
Above 80 ug/dL Serious permanent health damage may occur

Lead poisoning may be determined by performing a standard lead detection or exposure test.

Precautionary Measures for Workers Possible Exposed To Lead

It may not be possible to completely be lead-free while working most especially for those who are working in the construction business. The best way to monitor worker health is by doing these simple steps:

  • Any worker, prior to starting with their respective jobs, should be tested for the presence of lead in their bodies.
  • A test should be given to the workers monthly for the first three months. If there is an increase of about 50 ug/dl compared to the previous month’s test, a follow up test should be given every 2 weeks. There may be a need to pursue treatment, if the lead levels don’t improve.
  • After the first three months, continue testing every two months. This should be done when the blood lead levels have remained below 25 ug/dL for 3 months and if an increase is less than 10 ug/dl from the previous test.
  • Test every 6 months when the blood lead levels remain below 25 ug/dL for 6 months and if an increase of less than 10ug/dL from the previous test.

Providing these tests will identify if the blood lead level is stable or is increasing. With such precautionary measures, the employer can not only ensure high work productivity but also a better overall well-being for its workforce.

What is “take home” lead?

Assuming that an individual is exposed to lead at work, the lead residue may cling to clothes, equipment or vehicle. This will somehow carry some amount of lead to the place of residence. This causes potential risks on the other family members.

How can one reduce lead exposure?

Lead is found everywhere and it may not be always possible to stay away from other harmful elements. Here are tips on how you can reduce exposure to lead:

  • Always make sure to wash your hands before eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Try to eat, drink or smoke on areas that free of lead dust.
  • Ensure that a clean and properly fitted respirator with HEPA filter is worn while working (especially for construction workers).
  • Never forget to keep your street clothes clean and properly stored, and never expose them to lead nor get it anywhere near your working clothes and shoes.
  • Wash your clothes separately from other family member’s clothes.
  • Clean faucets regularly.
  • Always prepare food using cold water.
  • Use lead-free paints.

Test for Lead Poisoning

It is good to know that anyone suspected of being exposed to lead can perform tests in the comfort of their own homes, and just send the samples to an accredited laboratory.

Here are some of the available lead testing kits:

Toxic Element Exposure Hair Testing Kit

What is good about this specific kit is that it is able to determine 31 heavy metals and toxins that can affect an individual’s health. It is designed to check out the levels of the following elements: arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, beryllium, cobalt, nickel, zinc, copper, thorium, thallium, barium, cesium, manganese, selenium, bismuth, vanadium, silver, antimony, palladium, aluminum, platinum, tungsten, tin, germanium, uranium, titanium, gold, gadolimium, and tellurium.

This is an inexpensive and non-invasive way of determining the level of exposure to various chemicals. It only requires about 0.25g of human hair for testing. It is able to test the presence of any of the elements even 6 months after exposure.

While this test may be able to provide you with information regarding the level of exposure to any of the elements, it is best to consult with your doctor regarding the results.

Lead Heavy Metal Toxicity Home Test Kit

This is a very simple to use kit that is specifically designed to use in the comforts of your own home. It can also determine lead levels in water. It is able to detect instantly and does not need sending to laboratories.

A color strip indicator is included with the test kit that will determine the lead toxicity level.

The average daily absorption of lead is between 20-40 mcg (i.e. the acceptable range), and this can easily be eliminated from the body. A concentration of less than 20ppm to 10ppm may be acceptable for children but since lead is a toxic element, it is still best that they do not have any traces of this element.

Treatment for Lead Poisoning

The first step in treating lead toxicity is by identifying the source of lead and removing it immediately. In case that it has been accidentally ingested, chelation therapy may be required. This involves using a synthetic solution called EDTA injected in to the blood stream.

You may also use activated charcoal which can bind lead in the GIT and promote elimination through defacation.

It is important to know that despite doing all the means possible of eliminating high levels of lead from the body, reversing the effect from long-term exposure may be difficult.

Conclusion

Researchers are continuously finding ways to come up with better alternatives in making different products without the use of lead. While waiting for these discoveries to happen, lead will remain to be part of a lot of things that are useful in our everyday lives. This leaves us with no choice but to continuously become more vigilant in choosing safe materials that we use and food that we eat.

By doing the necessary precautions, we can ensure that our families are always safe and healthy, and away from lead poisoning.

More Online Resources

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs379/en/

http://www.healthline.com/health/lead-poisoning#Overview1

https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=7&po=10

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/toys.htm

http://www.testcountry.com/categories.html?cat=388

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Lena Butler

My name is Lena Butler. I live in San Diego, California. I work as a customer service representative for TestCountry.com. I attended the University of San Diego and majored in marketing. I enjoy spending time at home, working on my painting and playing with my two pet rabbits, Carl and Lenny, when I am not here sharing interesting posts :)

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