Café au lait spots are light brown to dark brown flattened marks of varying sizes that can appear on the skin during infancy. They may be irregular in shape and become enlarged as a child grows so they are more obvious by the age of two.
For the majority of children, café au lait spots are simply birthmarks present on the skin, especially if there are less than four present anywhere on the body. However, café au lait spots can be an indicator of an illness called neurofibromatosis, so an examination by a doctor should be done if they are present.
Café au laut spots are caused by an overproduction of melanin. In infancy, café au lait spots appear in 3 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of Blacks. By childhood, a single café au lait spot has been found to occur in 13 percent of whites and 27 percent of blacks. When a single café au lait spot is large, over .5 cm in size, they appear more commonly on the buttocks than any other part of the body. (1)
Café au lait spots occur in 95 percent of those with an inherited disease called neurofibromatosis type 1 according to medscape.com. Neurofibromatosis affects 1 in every 3,500 people. Neurofibromatosis causes non-cancerous tumors called neurofibromas to grow along the nerves. The tumors feel like rubbery lumps under the skin and can appear anywhere in the body.
In addition, children with neurofibromatosis may have freckling of the skin in their armpits and groin. Sometimes those with neurofibromatosis develop visual problems due to growths on their optic nerves or skeletal abnormalities with bowing of the legs and curvatures of their spine (scoliosis). A serious complication of Neurofibromatosis is that 50 percent of children have learning disabilities.
Café au lait spots do not require any treatment though the spot could be removed using lasers. Single spots are common in children and do not indicate that there is a health issue. However, if a child has multiple spots, a pediatrician should see them since they can indicate more serious health issues.
1. Cafe Au Lait Spots. Medscape Reference. Web. 24, Sept. 2011.