Before iris scans and fingerprints came into existence for identification purposes, people used other identifying marks such as moles and birthmarks as a means of identifying individuals. By definition, a birthmark is a blemish on the skin that has been formed before birth; they can occur anywhere on the body. Though the exact cause of birthmarks is still not clear, one could consider them safe unless they appear to be growing. Usually, capillaries lying just under the skin expand unnaturally beyond their normalcy, which may cause a patch of blood to accumulate which causes a stain under the skin. These types of birthmarks are vascular birthmarks. Nearly 3 out of every 1000 babies are born with these vascular birthmarks which are called port-wine stains. Port-wine stains look as if purple wine has been splashed onto the skin. These port-wine birthmarks can be small or they can cover a fairly large area on the skin.
Port-wine stains are medically termed as Nevus Flammeus; they can occur anywhere on the body, but are usually found on the face, neck, forearms, head and scalp. Though, appearing pale at the time of birth, port-wine stains can grow darker in color as the child grows. As the child gets older the port-wine stains may change the texture of the skin; the skin may become thick and may be felt under the skin. Though, considered to be part of a person’s identity, port-wine stains do not cause any discomfort; the only discomfort may be a feeling of self-consciousness. Port-wine stains may fade or get darker in color to naturally blend in with the surrounding skin, as the child matures; in time port-wine stains may be barely noticeable. If children have prominent port-wine birthmarks that cause them to feel embarrassment, they can be treated with laser therapies and other cosmetic procedures.
When should vascular birthmarks be examined by a doctor?
All vascular birthmarks should be examined by a doctor at birth and they should be tracked as the child grows. Port-wine stains are sometimes confused with hemangiomas, which are also called strawberry marks. Hemangiomas should be followed by a physician; they may grow and cover large areas of the skin. Medically, port-wine stains are harmless; however they should be checked by a physician to rule out any future damage that could be triggered by them. A rare complication that could be triggered by port-wine stains is a neurological disorder which is sometimes called stain on the brain. Stain on the brain is medically termed Sturge-Weber syndrome – there is a lesion near the eye or forehead that looks like a port-wine stain. Sturge-Weber syndrome requires medical attention because this condition is characterized by seizure activity and developmental disorders in the child. Similarly, stains on the eyelids and pupils could lead to a future complication such as glaucoma due to increased pressure within the eye.
The attending physician will likely refer children with vascular birthmarks for diagnostic tests such as X-ray, CT scan or an MRI scan to identify the underlying causes of the vascular port-wine stains. Eye tests and other analyses may also be done to aid in the diagnosis of port-wine stains. These tests will be done (if deemed necessary) to differentiate between port-wine stains and other vascular birthmarks that could possibly cause potential problems.
During cold, dry months, port-wine stains may cause brittleness and discomfort to the skin; the treatment for this would to use a good moisturizer during the cold and dry seasons of the year. Other than for cosmetic reasons, treatment of port-wine stains is not usually called for. If the child’s feels self-conscious or is being made fun of by other kids, the child’s doctor could remove the stain with a pulsed-dye laser. The pulsed-dye laser destroys the distorted capillaries without damaging the overlying skin. All-in-all, there is nothing to be worried about with the management or with the treatment of port-wine stains.