Any kind of marking or a patch of hair on the back of a child should not be taken lightly as that can point to a spinal problem that she is suffering from.
Recently, when a three-year-old Taiwanese girl was taken to the doctor to get a patch of hair removed from her lower back, it came to light that the hair was not a cosmetic problem. The hair had formed due to problems in her spinal cord, said a report in The New England Journal of Medicine.
She was diagnosed with split spinal cord or diastematomyelia and syringomyelia, which refers to fluid-filled cyst in the spinal cord. Some of this fluid was also leaking to the skin surface.
In general terms, she is suffering from a kind of spina bifida called spina bifida occulta. Spina bifida refers to the state when the spinal column does not close till the end and it is one of the most common birth defects, leading to permanent disability.
This condition in children can lead to paralysis and incontinence. Except for external markings, there is no other sign to know about the problem. About 15 per cent of healthy people have this condition, but they never know about it. The girl in this case also did not face any difficulty in walking or developmental problems.
As a baby, an MRI scan disclosed about the cyst in her spinal cord and bony growths on two of her vertebrae when the fluid leaked from the bottom of her back. To plug the leakage of her brain and spinal fluid, she went through a process when she was just four-day-old. Another surgery was done upon her to mend the malformations in her back when she was seven-month-old.
Children who have this problem usually show some kind of marking on the back, including excessive hair, thin skin, dimples or small skin appendages that look like a tail.
Dr Ahmad Latefi, an attending neurosurgeon at North Shore-Long Island Jewish's Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, NY, said that hair growth on the back is a "classic" sign of a split spinal cord malformation. If not treated early in life, occult spinal dysraphism can cause neurological problems or musculoskeletal deformities, said Dr Toba N Niazi, a paediatric neurosurgeon at Miami Children's Hospital.
A problem during the first month of an embryo's development causes spina bifida where the spinal column doesn't close fully. Doctors do not know the cause for this state, but they say lack of folic acid before pregnancy and during early weeks of pregnancy could be a possible reason. About one child in every 2,500 is affected by spina bifida.