Vascular Birthmarks

What are Vascular Birthmarks?

These are pink to red markings that are noticed on a baby’s skin at birth or within the first year of life.  They are usually caused by abnormalities in the development or function of the blood vessels of the skin.  The increased amount of blood within these markings causes the red discoloration and often, elevated contour.  Some vascular birthmarks are permanent (without medical intervention), while others fade away over time.

What do Vascular Birthmarks look like?

There are many types of Vascular Birthmarks, but the four most common types are:

  • Salmon patches

    These are also known as “stork bites” or “angel kisses”. They are flat, pale pink patches that can appear on a baby’s eyelids, between the eyebrows, in the middle of his forehead and at the back of his neck. They may be more obvious when the baby cries. Although a baby may be born with salmon patches, the ones on the face will fade within a year or two, with the exception of the ones on the back of the neck, which take years to fade, if at all.
  • Port wine stains

    These flat pink, red or purple marks range in size from very small to large patches. Port wine stains often appear on one side of the face, but can happen anywhere on the body. Light ones may fade, but most get bigger as a child grows, becoming darker in color and in adulthood may become raised and bumpy. Port wine stains are caused by dilated blood vessels under the skin.
  • Hemangiomas

    They come in two types: elevated red lesions that looks like a small strawberry and deeper blue or even skin colored soft masses under the skin.  One or more can appear on a baby’s skin within a few days or weeks after birth. They are more common on the head and neck, but can appear anywhere on a baby’s body. Hemangiomas tend to grow very quickly during the baby’s first six months, stop growing by one year of age and usually disappearing five to nine years.   Hemangiomas represent a growth of blood vessels under the skin surface. The rate of growth, stabilization and shrinking varies from case to case. Some hemangiomas may become ulcerated and bleed. This happens more frequently in hemangiomas close to the mouth or the genitalia.

Is treatment of Vascular Birthmarks necessary?

Most birthmarks are harmless, but if there is any concern, one should ask their doctor for a referral to see a dermatologist for assessment and advice.

Some birthmarks can be treated if they cause problems for your baby.  Here are some situations which may warrant treatment:

Port wine stains on a baby’s face or neck, even small ones, may cause cosmetic issues when the child is older. Specialized make-up can be used to disguise port wine stains. Port wine stains can also be treated with laser therapy, which will at least lighten the color. A dermatologist can assist in helping to make the decision of when and if treatment should be performed.

Large hemangiomas and near a baby’s eyes, nose, mouth or bottom can cause problems as these birthmarks get larger. They may affect a baby’s sight, breathing, eating, and cause problems when they go to the toilet. Fortunately, there are medicines, techniques and technology to reduce the size of these problematic hemangiomas and speed their resolution.  Consultation with your dermatologist will help determine if treatment is necessary and if so, which modality of treatment is best and when is the best time to perform the treatment.

Although it may be upsetting to see a baby or toddler with vascular birthmarks on their face and body, if these do not cause any physical or emotional trouble to the child, it may be best to leave them alone. Again, many vascular birthmarks will disappear by the time a child is older anyway.  You have the right to request consultation with a dermatologist if you have concerns or need more information of your child’s birthmark.

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