Dr. Majisu answered our questions around lead poisoning to help educate parents.
Lead poisoning occurs after months or even years of lead building up in the body. Children between 18 and 30 months are most vulnerable to poisoning. Even small quantities of lead in the body can result in severe health problems while high levels can be fatal.
What makes children more vulnerable to contamination?
Children are rapidly growing and will therefore absorb the toxins faster than adults. For the grownups, the toxins are just absorbed in their bones while the children absorb them in all the body parts.
Children also have a tendency of eating almost everything they put their hands on which put them at risk of ingesting the toxins.
Compared to an adult, the blood brain barrier of a child is more permeable. This means that chemicals and toxins can get to the child’s brain and nervous system in greater quantities than in a fully developed individual.
Is your child at risk?
Children with developmental delays such as Autism and Down’s Syndrome are at a higher risk of exposure mostly because they put a lot of things in their mouth.
Children with nutritional deficiencies for example Iron, Vitamin C and Calcium are at risk. Lead and calcium compete for the same sites in the body. When there is not enough calcium in the body, the bones, nervous system and brain will absorb lead instead. Heavy metals in the brain are reportedly implicated in developmental disorders.
Children with a weakened immune system will not be able to fight the toxins as well as they should.
What are the symptoms to look out for in your child?
Lead poisoning is very insidious and it is asymptomatic. The toxins affect all organs of the body. Some of the warning signs are:
- Reduced activity
- Consistent abdominal pains
- Constant tiredness
- Slow growth rate
- Weight loss and poor appetite
- Behavioural problems
The symptoms will vary from child to child as well as the levels of toxins they have been exposed to. Exposure to high levels of lead will be evidenced by lead encephalopathy which is marked by seizures, confusion and coma.
Can the exposure be treated or the effects corrected?
Lead exposure is not reversible, therefore, prevention is key. Parents need to educate themselves more on toxins including heavy metal toxins, not just lead. Get to know what they are and very importantly how they spread. We also need to be more aware of our environment and the impact it has on our family’s health. Are we living near a factory? Does it produce waste? Is it disposed in a way it could harm us? What is the source of our water supply?
Get to know the routes of exposure. Is it ingestion, contact or inhalation? This will then make it easier to know how to protect your children from being exposed to the poisons.
Know your food sources. It is vital that parents get to know where exactly their food comes from and the conditions it is grown, transported and stored.
Always wash your vegetables. This will help get rid of the lead dust they might have been exposed to. Washing is what’s more important for the vegetables grown in the soil. For cabbages, you can use the inner leaves instead of the ones at the top.
Very few of the lead poisoning effects can be corrected. Since neurological changes are permanent so prevention is vital.
What simple activities in the house can we adopt to keep our family safe?
- Dust your home daily using a warm damp cloth. This helps to get rid of the pealing lead paints on the walls as well.
- Remove your shoes at the door
- Ensure that your home is well swept
- Most importantly, ensure that you and your family practices proper hand washing. This includes washing hands during the critical times using soap and water for about 15 seconds.
Mum’s should always remember…
- Food poisoning affects all families regardless of their economic levels and where they get their food therefore; we need not be too trusting to your food vendors. Ensure to always take the necessary precautions regardless of where you purchase your vegetables. These include washing and peeling.
- Make wise choices about where you buy your vegetables. This includes knowing the kind of environment in which they are grown and sold in.
- Realize the value of hand washing and dusting your house especially where your baby is crawling.
- Always boil your water. This includes the water to be used to cook, wash the kids hand and of course to drink.
- Optimize the children’s diet. Ensure that the kids have a balanced and nutritious diet to not only make them healthier but help them resist toxins better.
Parting shot from Dr. Majisu:
Education is power! Parents need to learn more with regards to what food they are giving their kids, where is it from and what effects will it have on them? Parents also need to feel empowered to go out there and change things so as to make food safer for their kids. Dr Claire Majisu is an Eminent Kenyan Pediatrician who recently relocated her practise back to Nairobi after several years in the USA.
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