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Three in every 1000 children will have a port wine stain, with girls twice as likely as boys to be born with this vascular birthmark. Although they can appear anywhere on the body, about 65 per cent of port wine stains appear on the neck and head. Over time they can thicken, darken, and adopt a cobblestone appearance. The good news is they can be treated.

What is a port wine stain?

Like its name suggests, a port wine stain is a reddish or purplish mark which appears on the skin. They are easy to diagnose because they are markedly different from other birthmarks. They are caused by a collection of blood vessels which have formed abnormally when the baby is developing in the womb. The exact cause of the condition is not known and they are not considered to be hereditary. People are usually born with port wine stains, but in rare cases they can develop later in life. This is called an acquired port wine stain.

Do port wine stains pose a threat to your health?

As a rule, port wine stains are not a direct health risk, but there is an increased risk of glaucoma for a person with a port wine stain around the eye. Additionally, children with a port wine stain around the eye, scalp or forehead, may develop a condition called Sturge-Weber syndrome which causes fits and convulsions. Yet, thankfully this is rare.

So why treat port wine stains?

Although port wine stains may not be physically harmful, they can have a negative impact on a person’s psychological well-being. Over time they can become increasingly noticeable. In such instances, many people opt to have them treated.

What the treatment involves

Although you cannot always remove port wine stains, they can be significantly shrunk and faded. Laser treatment is currently the number one choice for treating them. The process works by using heat to weaken the abnormal blood vessels. Within a few weeks, they will slowly disintegrate, resulting in the shrinking, fading, and sometimes complete removal of the port wine stain. Most clients will require several sessions for the best results.

What to expect

Your skin will have heightened sensitivity post procedure, so ensure you apply adequate protection against the sun. Although laser treatments may not completely eradicate the port wine stain, it will become a lot less noticeable.

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