Loyola University Chicago

Healthy Homes & Healthy Communities

Responding to lead poisoning

Some children with lead in their blood need follow-up care. In Illinois, children with at least 10 micrograms (µg/dL) per deciliter of lead are considered to have elevated levels of blood. In Chicago, children with at least 5 µg/dL are considered to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Health care providers will determine what kind of care the child needs. Children exposed to very high levels of lead may need treatment to remove lead from their bodies.

If a child has been diagnosed with lead in his or her blood, the first step in treatment is preventing further exposure to lead.

Medical care after lead exposure

All children with elevated blood lead levels need additional blood lead tests until the amount of blood in their system goes down. In addition to blood lead testing, children with elevated blood lead levels may need a full medical evaluation and/or a risk assessment of their home.

A full medical evaluation should include:
  • determining possible sources of lead exposure;
  • checking behaviors such as pica (eating non-food materials such as dirt, chalk or paint chips) and putting objects in one's mouth;
  • finding out if the child is getting enough iron and calcium in his or her diet;
  • finding out if adults in the household are exposed to lead and if the child spends time in other places with lead hazards;
  • a physical examination; and
  • testing for low iron in the blood.

Case management for lead poisoned children

When a child is identified as lead poisoned, the Illinois Department of Public Health or the city or county health departments provide case management services to the family. These services include counseling regarding possible sources of lead hazards and information on nutrition and prevention. Case management services vary, but may also include referrals for home inspections, special education programs, medical care, and housing resources. An environmental inspection can look at locations other than the home where the child spends time, such as daycare facilities. Case managers may also administer developmental tests. Other services may include referrals for Public Aid and Early Intervention and programs such as WIC and Food Stamps. Additional services are offered through community-based agencies and clinics.

To learn more about case management resources, view pages 14–18 in the‌ Health and Education Resource Guide on Childhood Lead Poisoning‌ for Parents and Other Advocates in Illinois.

‌Eating healthy foods

Preventing exposure to lead is the most important way to prevent lead poisoning, but healthy eating may also help. Children with lead in their blood may not be getting enough iron, calcium, or vitamin C in their diets. A healthy diet, such as that described by the United Sates Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Pyramid may help to reduce a child's blood lead level.


Because lead from past lead exposure may be stored in bones and teeth, it is important that children with lead in their blood get enough calcium so their body does not substitute lead in their bones for the calcium that they need. Recommendations for children ages two to six years include:

  • eating two servings of dairy products every day, and
  • eating other foods with calcium such as broccoli, greens, kidney beans, and drinking juices with added calcium.

Lead poisoning may result in the body absorbing less iron. Children with lead in their blood should eat iron-rich foods. Daily recommendations include:

  • eating cereals rich in iron or with iron added and
  • eating one serving of meat every day for children old enough to eat meat.
Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps the body take in more iron from foods that have iron. Children should eat foods rich in vitamin C along with foods rich in iron. Recommendations include two servings of foods with vitamin C every day like fruit juices, fruits, and vegetables.