Port wine stains are a somewhat common birthmark, with about 3 out of every 1,000 babies born with one or more on their bodies. Although these birthmarks are generally not harmful, they can be a source of embarrassment and bullying for children, especially if the mark is in an obvious place like the face or neck. These marks tend to expand and darken with age, but there are a couple of treatment options available that may make them less noticeable.
Possibly the best way to treat a port wine stain birthmark is to use a laser to minimize the discoloration. Typically this involves passing a pulsed-dye laser over the area to stimulate a process called photothermolysis. The light from the laser is absorbed by the blood in the treated area, producing heat that collapses the extra blood vessels responsible for causing the birthmark. Over a period of treatments–the exact number of which is determined the by the size of mark–the discoloration lightens.
For maximum benefit, this treatment is best done within a few years after birth when the mark is still pale. While this treatment can be done on older children and even adults, the amount of lightening that can be achieved may be limited due to how dark the birthmark gets. Another issue is this treatment tends to work best on the face and may not be as effective on the arms and legs because of skin thickness and coloration.
Laser treatment can cause some discomfort, but doctors typically use local anesthesia. Additionally, treatments are scheduled several weeks apart (about 4 to 8) to give the skin time to heal. Side effects are limited, but there is a risk of permanent scarring and the skin may end up lighter than the surrounding area.
You can expect to pay about $750 to $7,000 for treatment, though the cost may be covered by health insurance.
In some instances, surgery may be the best treatment option, particularly for birthmarks that have been on the skin for a long period of time (e.g. into adulthood) or are resistant to laser lightening. This procedure essentially excises the excess blood vessels that cause the birthmark and remodels the affected area. For instance, the surgeon would remove a mark on the face and remodel the area using skin grafts or other resources.
Invasive surgery always carries the risk of infection. However, scarring and disfigurement can occur if the treatment site doesn't respond well to the procedure. This treatment typically involves the use of general anesthesia, so it may be best for older kids and adults.
The cost of port wine removal surgery is anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000, depending on the complexity. Like the laser treatment, however, some or all the cost may be covered by medical insurance.
For more information about treating port wine birthmarks, contact a professional like Shriners Hospitals for Children – Cincinnati.