Not all birthmarks are pale and flat. Hemangiomas are rubbery growths or bright red nodules that get their unusual appearance from the extra blood vessels at their site. Typically, this type of birthmark shows up in infancy and grows until the child is about one. Then the hemangioma begins to fade and shrink, usually fading completely by age ten.
How Do Hemangiomas Start?
While mature hemangiomas can be quite large and protrude considerably from the skin, they typically start out as a small flat mark on the face, chest, or back. They can also appear on the scalp and other places on the body. While some children have one, others may have several. Caucasian children most commonly develop hemangiomas, and those who are one of the multiple births often report multiple growths.
What Are the Symptoms of Hemangiomas?
Sometimes a hemangioma is present at birth. More frequently, however, it does not appear on the infant’s body until he or she is a few months old. The main symptom of hemangiomas is rapid growth. The mark becomes a deep red, sponge-like mass. As it grows, the mass protrudes from the skin and may be unusual in shape.
When Should I Consult a Doctor?
Most doctors will monitor any mark on an infant’s skin. If the hemangioma is not present at birth, parents should consult a doctor as soon as they notice the development. Most likely, the doctor will note the hemangioma’s appearance and recommend continued monitoring of growth. Most hemangiomas require no medical intervention other than observation.
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Should Hemangiomas Be Removed?
Most doctors will advise parents to leave hemangiomas alone. Depending on the location, the development of the birthmark on the face can interfere with vision or even breathing. In these instances, doctors may recommend surgery. Surgery can leave a scar, so many doctors prefer to let the growths fade on their own as long as they do not cause any medical problems.
Are There Complications with Hemangiomas?
Doctors advise parents to closely monitor hemangiomas because they can develop sores, become infected, or bleed. It can be difficult to prevent young children from touching the birthmarks. Pulling or scratching can cause this bleeding. If these symptoms occur, it is best to speak to a pediatrician to ensure the hemangioma does not become infected.
Are Tests Needed to Confirm the Diagnosis of Hemangiomas?
Trained medical doctors can typically confirm hemangiomas without any diagnostic tests. Pediatric doctors receive specific training to identify these and other birthmarks. In some cases, a doctor may refer parents to a specialist such as a dermatologist, but typically this condition does not involve specialist care.
Hemangiomas can become quite large, which can concern some parents. Also, as children age, they may become aware of and uncomfortable about the growths, and wish to have them removed. As noted, in most cases doctors will encourage parents and children to wait and allow the hemangioma to fade on its own.
Treating Hemangioma Complications
Doctors will treat hemangiomas that complicate vision, breathing, or elimination. Beta-blockers can treat small, relatively superficial hemangiomas. These drugs, however, can come with side effects and cause wheezing, high blood pressure, and even high blood sugar.
What If Beta Blockers Don’t Work?
Some hemangiomas may not respond to treatment with beta-blockers. If the hemangioma is complicating health significantly, doctors might suggest corticosteroid medications. As with many other types of medications, these, too, can produce side effects. One side effect of this medication in children is poor growth rates. For this reason, doctors and parents are often hesitant to rely on this treatment.
If a hemangioma is interfering with breathing or vision, or if sores develop, doctors may consider laser treatment that can target just the sores or the entire growth. If this form of treatment is not an option and the growth is causing health problems, surgical removal is a last resort.