As you display grandma’s antique ornaments over the holidays or take on home-improvement projects in the New Year, remember that lead lurks where kids live. 

Moms and dads often don’t realize how easy it is for kids to be exposed to lead — it is in paint, toys and jewelry, food, water and dust, among other things. Long-term exposure can lead to damaging effects, including decreased bone and muscle growth, speech and language problems, seizures and unconsciousness, according to Kids Health. 

Lead poisoning is still common 

While it’s true lead-based paints are mostly found in homes built before 1978, there is still lead in tap water from corroded fixtures. Toys with lead are still recalled and taken off store shelves and children are being exposed at an alarming rate. 

...familiarize yourself with tips to prevent exposure. Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint. Create barriers between play areas and lead sources.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports children in more than 4 million households in the U.S. are exposed to high levels of lead. Kids under age six are most at risk because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults. And while their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the effects, few show symptoms until dangerous levels of lead are found in their blood. 

Some symptoms to watch for are increased irritability, learning difficulties, loss of appetite, sluggishness and fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Preventing exposure 

Since no level of lead is considered safe in a child’s bloodstream, you should familiarize yourself with tips to prevent exposure. Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint. Create barriers between play areas and lead sources. Additionally, regularly wash children’s hands and toys and provide kids with sand boxes to reduce play in bare soil. 

If you suspect the presence of lead in your home, contact your local public health department. Staff members can help make a final determination, propose safe ways to remove it or suggest options to reduce your risk. 

What should you do if you believe your child has been exposed to lead-based paint or lead-contaminated dust? Visit your doctor and get your child’s blood level tested. If high levels of lead are detected, children can be given medication by mouth that binds with lead so it is excreted in urine, according to the Mayo Clinic.