Some birthmarks are cute, but others cause embarrassment for patients due to their size or where they are located on the body. For these types of birthmarks, called vascular birthmarks, our team at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Indiana can offer treatments to minimize their appearance.
Vascular Birthmarks: An Overview
There are three major types of vascular birthmarks:
- port wine stains
- strawberry hemangiomas
- cavernous hemangiomas
They can appear anywhere on the body. These lesions may be small or large enough to involve an entire extremity.
Birthmarks that occur on exposed parts of the body, such as the face or neck, may cause a person emotional or social burden. Laser treatments can work wonders on vascular birthmarks in these cases.
The pulsed dye laser is ideal for removing vascular birthmarks on an outpatient basis. Infants younger than 18 months, teens, and adults can usually be treated without anesthesia. Large birthmarks in children may require pulsed dye laser treatment under general anesthesia.
Each of the three types of vascular birthmarks behaves differently over time. A strawberry hemangioma is characterized by a gray or pink spot found on the skin at birth or shortly thereafter. This macule rapidly progresses to a red vascular nodule, or ectasia, that may bleed following minor trauma. These birthmarks are usually responsive to the pulsed dye laser, but occasionally CO2 laser resurfacing may be required.
A port wine stain is also characterized by a pink macule or patch which is present at birth. This type of birthmark will gradually darken and thicken throughout life. Early laser treatment is the best way to improve this type of birthmark.
A cavernous hemangioma is a blue nodule which is present at birth. This birthmark will increase in size with the normal growth of the child. Laser treatment is sometimes not particularly effective.
Laser treatment sessions are brief, depending on the size of the area to be treated. The laser is equipped with an anesthetic coolant spray (cryogen) to protect the skin and prevent patient discomfort. The laser pulse feels like a soft rubber band snap. The number of pulses delivered depends on the size of the birthmark.
Depending on the type of laser used, the treated area may be discolored after treatment. It may darken in the first several hours after treatment. The discoloration will begin to clear in five days or less.
Make-up can be used to cover the laser treatment site as long as a crust is not present. Make-up should be removed carefully to avoid irritating the skin. If blistering or crusting develops following treatment, the area should be cleaned twice daily with mild soap and water followed by Polysporin or Bacitracin ointment and a Telfa dressing. Crusting is uncommon and lasts only a day or two when it occurs.
Direct exposure to sunlight should be avoided because tanning interferes with the effectiveness of laser surgery. The treated site will be evaluated in six to eight weeks to determine the effectiveness of the treatments. Multiple treatments may be necessary to achieve the desired result.