Capillary malformations, also called port-wine stains are a type of birthmark. They appear as red-pink stains on the skin and are vascular malformations, meaning they are physical manifestation of abnormal blood vessels on the skin. Roughly, one in 330 babies is born with a capillary malformation. Though some port-wine stains don’t appear until after birth, most are congenital, which means they are present when a baby is born.
As small blood vessels (capillaries) dilate, the result is vascular malformations/port- wine stains. Port-wine stains often grow darker and larger in size with age.
Port-wine stains can appear anywhere on the skin but are primarily located on a child’s face or neck. Sometimes, the birthmark doesn’t need to be treated, since it is not always a telltale sign of an underlying condition. However, port-wine stains that form close to an eye or on the forehead, may signal a neurological condition.
Sturge-Weber syndrome is often accompanied by port-wine type stains. This condition causes seizures as well as learning disabilities, like developmental delays in children. Stains on the eyelids can affect sight and might even lead to glaucoma. As a result, if a port-wine stain is on the face, most parents seek treatment for their children.
Another reason why parents seek treatment for port-wine stains is if the birthmarks are in very prominent places, such as the face. Port-wine stains do not go away on their own, but they can be lightened with treatment. This is accomplished through vascular laser surgery.
Vascular Laser Surgery
Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation or laser, specifically vascular laser, targets abnormal blood vessels, without damaging surrounding healthy tissue. Vascular laser surgery is safe and effective, but before a doctor treats port-wine stains, it must be determined if the port-wine stain relates to Sturge-Weber Syndrome. To determine if the port-wine stain is in connection with this condition, your doctor may order X-ray images, a CT scan, or an MRI.
Overall, about 6% of children born with port-wine stains have Sturge-Weber Syndrome. However, the percentage goes up to 26% when the port-wine stain is on the face. If the port-wine stain is not in connection with the condition, the birthmark can be treated with vascular laser surgery. If the child has Sturge-Weber Syndrome, treatment may be slightly different.
High concentrations of light from lasers are used to treat port-wine stain birthmarks. Lasers are especially effective on the neck and head after several treatments. Children who are very young are most commonly treated this way. However, vascular laser surgery can also be effective in treating port-wine stains in older children and teenagers. The younger a child is, the more likely laser treatments will be successful in reducing the pigment of the birthmark.
What to Expect
Laser surgery for treating port-wine stains is completed under local anesthetic in the form of a shot, ointment, or spray to numb the area in preparation for treatment. Most laser procedures can be performed in the office especially when the patient is an infant. As the child gets older, the option for general anesthesia – especially if the port-wine stain is on the face, may be offered. This will prevent the child from moving during the treatment and help effect a more complete treatment.
Parents can expect their children to have some swelling and bruising at the treatment site, which should only last for a few days following treatment. Port-wine stains are usually flat, but some may become raised and can have a bumpy appearance. Your doctor may need to use a different type of laser surgery to address the thickness.
In some cases, the stain will disappear completely, but for other patients, the birthmark will not be completely removed, but the color will be significantly reduced. Port-wine stains can return over time, and a second set of treatments may be necessary. Results vary from child-to-child. Therefore, even after treatment, keep a watchful eye out for any pigment changes, and see a skin specialist as soon as possible if you notice a change.
Port-Wine Stain Birthmark Treatment in South Florida
If you or your child have a port-wine stain, seek help from a skin specialist for treatment. The experts at Children’s Skin Center have a wealth of experience diagnosing and treating all types of dermatological conditions for both children and adults.
Request an appointment today by calling (305) 669-6555. You can also request an appointment online.