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Acanthosis Nigricans in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What is acanthosis nigricans (AN)?

AN is a condition that causes dark, velvety patches to form on your child's skin. The patches form on your child's body folds and creases. The most common areas affected are the back of your child's neck, armpit, and groin. Your child's fingers, mouth, nipple area, bellybutton, face, or elbows may also be affected. Your child's symptoms may be mild or severe. The patches may itch or have an odor. Symptoms may be present at birth or develop slowly. Over time, your child's skin may become thick and leathery.

What increases my child's risk for AN?

AN is more common in children with darker skin. AN may be a sign of insulin resistance. This means your child's body cannot use insulin correctly. Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes. The following can also increase your child's risk:

  • Obesity, being overweight, diabetes, or cancer
  • Certain medicines, such as steroids
  • A family history of AN
  • Hypothyroidism or an adrenal gland problem

How is AN diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider may diagnose AN by looking at his or her skin. Tell the provider when your child's skin changes started, and if the changes have gotten worse over time. Tell the provider if your child is taking any medicines. He or she may also ask if anyone in your family has AN or diabetes. Your child may need any of the following to find the cause of AN:

  • Blood tests may be used to check for medical problems that can cause AN.
  • A blood glucose test or hemoglobin A1c test may be used to check the amount of glucose (sugar) in your child's blood. These tests may show if your child has diabetes.
  • An x-ray may be used to find medical problems that can cause AN.

How is AN treated?

AN may not need treatment if the skin patches do not cause symptoms. Patches often fade when the cause of AN is treated. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Topical cream or gel medicines may be prescribed. These medicines may make the patches lighter or softer. Your child may also be given antibiotic cream or soap to use on his or her skin.
  • Laser therapy may be used to treat thick skin.

What can I do to manage or prevent AN?

  • Ask your child's healthcare provider how much your child should weigh. AN skin patches often clear up after weight loss. Your child's healthcare provider can help create a safe weight loss plan if your child is overweight.
  • Feed your child healthy foods. Healthy foods can help control your child's blood sugar levels. They can also help your child lose weight. Examples of healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Your child's healthcare provider or a dietitian can help you create a healthy meal plan for your child.
  • Have your child exercise regularly. Exercise can help decrease your child's blood sugar level. It can also help your child lose weight. Your child should exercise for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week. Examples of exercise include walking, swimming, or playing sports. Work with your child's healthcare provider to create an exercise plan for him or her.
  • Use gentle skin care products on your child's skin. Some skin care products can irritate your child's skin and make AN worse. Ask your child's healthcare provider what products are safe for your child's skin. The provider may also be able to prescribe or recommend soaps if your child's patches have an odor.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has new or worsening symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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