July 4th, 2011
09:46 AM ET

Why does my 4-year-old have gray hair?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Asked by Aqila from Minnesota

My 4-year-old son has a gray hair. He was born prematurely and weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces. Now he is around 29 pounds. He had a gray hair few months back (I guess it fell off after couple of months), and now I see another one (different area). Does that imply any deficiencies in his diet?
Expert answer

Thanks for your question. It can be perfectly normal for children to have a gray hair every now and then. However, as you mention, a dietary deficiency may sometimes be to blame.

The most common nutritional problems that cause gray hair in children include anemia (such as from not getting enough iron) and vitamin B-12 deficiency (for example, from a strict vegan diet or poor absorption of vitamin B-12 by the intestinal tract).

Medical issues such as abnormal thyroid levels, problems with the immune system and genetic conditions can also cause premature graying. Treating the medical condition may help prevent more gray hairs from developing.

Your son's prematurity may or may not have anything to do with his gray hair. Without knowing more about his medical background, I can only say that although he started out on the early and small side, his weight is considered to be on the lower end of the normal range for a 4-year-old.

Your pediatrician can advise you whether blood tests or an evaluation by a dermatologist or other specialist might be helpful to determine a potential cause for your child's gray hair.

If your son's health is otherwise good, however, it may be fine to wait and just keep an eye out for more gray hairs before doing any testing - it's quite possible that there won't be any more for the next several years or decades to come.

Good luck!

Follow Dr. Shu on Twitter

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.