Port Wine Stains

What is a port wine stain?

Port wine stains, or as health care providers like to call it capillary malformations, or nevus flammeus are widening and/or overgrowth of the smallest blood vessels called capillaries in the skin. They look like spilled port wine, i.e. purple–red to pink flat blanchable discoloration of skin. It is present at birth and can be anywhere on the baby’s skin, but most commonly on the head and neck.

A person 's hand with red spots on it.

What is the cause of my baby’s port wine stain?

The cause of port wine stains is unknown.

Should I take my baby to a health care provider?

It is always wise to see your baby’s health care provider for an initial exam and for a correct diagnosis and to exclude something more serious such as Sturge Weber syndrome (also known as encephalotrigeminal angiomatosis) or glaucoma, especially if it is near or over eyes.

Is port wine stain painful to my baby?

 Not unless it is over the eyelids when it can increase pressure in the eye, which causes condition called glaucoma. If glaucoma develops suddenly, it may be painful. Glaucoma can also cause blindness, if not recognized and treated early.

My baby has a port wine stain, so what is the treatment?

In the vast majority of cases no treatment is needed. However, if left untreated port wine stains will not go away on their own, and can become darker, thicker and bumpy over the years. When they become bumpy, port wine stains can bleed easily. Therefore we recommend to all patients to have pulsed dye laser (PDL) therapy, which is considered the standard of care for the treatment of capillary malformations. Your child may need multiple treatments over several months to years to make the stain less visible. Smaller children may need general anesthesia, if the area is large. Older children may not need any anesthesia, or may need just numbing cream applied over the treatment area about 30 minutes to 2 hours before the laser treatment.  

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