We all need iron to keep our bodies strong. Chronic iron deficiency has been associated with learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs and transports it throughout the body.
Iron deficiency in children is the most common nutritional disorder worldwide and accounts for approximately one-half of anemia cases. It is often underdiagnosed and undiscovered.
Signs of Iron Deficiency Anemia
If a child is not getting enough iron in his/her diet, the amount of iron in the body will decrease, affecting muscles and brain function since the body is using all of the available iron to make hemoglobin. When the level of iron continues to go down, the body will then make fewer red blood cells ultimately leading to anemia.
Most of the time iron deficiency and anemia are asymptomatic, that is why it is so important to get a hemoglobin check on every physical exam, once a year.
Here are some signs of anemia and iron deficiency:
If your child is getting enough sleep but still looks abnormally tired all the time, your child might be low on iron. It all circles back to iron’s role in helping the blood carry oxygen efficiently.
Hemoglobin gives skin its rosy color, so low levels cause the skin of your child to become lighter. This may be easier to detect in children with lighter complexions, but no matter what the skin tone, if the area inside the bottom eyelid is lighter than normal, this may be a sign of iron deficiency.
Shortness of breath.
When your child has iron deficiency, it’s hard for his body to get the oxygen it needs when it’s active. That’s why one of the more common signs of iron deficiency is the decreased ability to play around.
Eating weird things.
If you see your child eating non-food substances, such as clay, dirt, chalk, or paper, it can be a sign of iron deficiency. This condition is known as pica. These substances could be harmful to your child, as it may lead to the ingestion of harmful toxins and substances.
Poor growth rate.
Low levels of hemoglobin cause the cells to receive less oxygen for growth. Therefore, a toddler with anemia will have poor height and weight gain compared to other healthy kids.
Iron helps the neurotransmitters essential to memory function properly. Children who are iron deficient can affect their ability to recall things that can cause poor academic performance.
Dry and damaged hair and skin.
When skin and hair are deprived of oxygen, it can become dry and weak. It is completely normal for some hair to fall out during everyday washing and brushing, but if your child is losing clumps or much more than normal, it may be due to iron deficiency.
Brittle or spooned-shaped nails
This is a much less common symptom of iron deficiency in children. This often starts with brittle nails that chip and crack easily. In later stages of iron deficiency, spooned-shaped nails can occur where the middle of the nail dips and the edges are raised to give a rounded appearance like a spoon. Brittle or spoon-shaped nails can be an indicator of more severe iron-deficiency anemia.
How to Get More Iron?
Giving iron-rich foods to children like red meat, eggs, salmon, tofu, raisins, whole grains, spinach, and legumes is definitely the way to go. Giving iron supplements is discouraged, especially without doctor’s recommendation, since they can sometimes cause GI distress, including stomach cramps and constipation.
How is Iron Deficiency Anemia Diagnosed?
In most cases, anemia is diagnosed with simple blood tests. The AAP recommends anemia screening with a hemoglobin blood test for all infants at 12 months of age. The screening should also include a risk assessment. This is a group of questions to find risk factors for iron-deficiency anemia. Risk factors include feeding problems, poor growth, and special healthcare needs. If the hemoglobin level is low, more blood tests are done.
Blood tests for anemia may also be done during routine physical exams or checkups in children of any age.
When to See a Pediatrician?
If you noticed one or more of the symptoms listed above, for more than a few weeks, you should arrange to see a pediatrician. They should be able to diagnose the condition using a simple blood test.
A blood test for anemia should be done once per year, during the physical exams.
If you have any questions or concerns, contact us at (559) 728-4133 (Fresno office) or (559) 673-6085 (Madera office).