- Early puberty starts before a child has reached age 9.
- For girls, precocious puberty can include breast development, underarm and public hair, and acne.
- For boys, body odor and a deepening voice can signal early puberty.
Puberty is the stage of childhood every parent dreads. But what happens if your child begins showing signs of puberty at a very early age?
Puberty is considered to be to early in girls if it begins before the age of 7 or 8. In boys, early puberty is defined as beginning earlier than age 9. Girls may begin to show signs of breast development, underarm and pubic hair, body odor, and acne. Boys may develop body odor, penile growth, underarm and pubic hair, or deepening of the voice. Both genders may experience a rapid growth spurt.
In girls, almost 90 percent of cases of early puberty are due to an unknown cause. In boys, early puberty is more likely to be caused by an underlying disease. Regardless of the gender, if your child develops any of the above signs, he or she needs to be evaluated by a pediatrician and in some cases by a pediatric endocrinologist.
Common causes of early puberty include:
- Brain abnormalities, including tumors or abnormal structure
- Previous head trauma
- Exposure to radiation treatment
- Ovarian cysts or tumors (in girls)
- Testicular tumors (in boys)
- Adrenal problems or tumors
- Exposure to environmental hormones (in creams, hair products, nutritional supplements, medications)
If your child has signs of early puberty, the first test your doctor will order will probably be an x-ray of your child’s hand to see if the puberty hormones are causing the bones to mature as quickly as the other parts of the body. Other tests will probably include an MRI of the brain, blood work, and ultrasounds.
Risk factors for developing early puberty include:
- African American and Hispanic ethnicity
- Hormone exposure in environment
- Head trauma
- Female gender
The treatment for early puberty depends on the underlying cause. If hormonal imbalance is though to be the cause, your child may be given medications to stop puberty from progressing.
One of the complications of early puberty is short stature. If a child’s bones fuse together too early, he or she may end up being short for their age. Growth hormone can be used to help your child reach the optimal adult height. Also children affected with precocious puberty may develop social and emotional problems because they do not look like their peers, possibly leading to poor self-esteem and depression.