Some birthmarks fade with time. Unfortunately port wine stains, which appear as if someone has spilled a glass of red/purple wine on the skin, do not. In fact, they can darken with age or change in texture and become thick, bumpy or raised.
Port wine stains (PWS) can occur anywhere on the body but are most noticeable on the face or neck. Luckily, laser therapy is a highly successful method of treatment that fades port wine stains reducing the embarrassment of their appearance.
Port wine stains arise when there is a lack of nerve supply in an area of blood vessel growth. Without control coming from these missing nerves, blood vessels overgrow, stay dilated and allow blood to collect creating the wine colored appearance. Laser treatments will fade the PWS, however the person will continue to need further maintenance treatments through out their life. Without the presence of these nerves, blood pooling in dilated blood vessels can reoccur and PWS can reappear even after several years.
Port wine stains occur in about 3 out of 1,000 births. Sometimes “salmon patches” commonly called stork bites or angel kisses are mistaken for PWS, but these birthmarks typically fade with time and are harmless. There are two conditions that may need to be evaluated in people with PWS: Sturge-Weber and Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome. Sturge Weber syndrome involves problems with abnormal blood vessel growth in the brain and Klippel-Trenaunay causes excess growth in the bones and soft tissue.
Lasers are considered to be the most effective treatment for port wine stains because they can destroy the tiny blood vessels with limited damage to the surrounding skin. There are different types of lasers used depending on the age of the person and the type of PWS being treated.
According to cornellwomanshealth.com, one type of flash pumped yellow-light laser is used successfully in children and infants and two other different lasers work well for adults. If the PWS has become thick and nodular, a neodymium-YAG laser may be tried. Treatments with lasers can be painful and has been compared to the sensation of a snapping rubber band.