A hemangioma is a birthmark that most commonly appears as a rubbery, bright red nodule of extra blood vessels in the skin.
Sometimes called a strawberry mark, the hemangioma grows during the first year of life, and then recedes over time. A child, who had a hemangioma during infancy, usually has a little visible trace of the growth by the age of 10.
A hemangioma may be present at birth, but more often appears during the first several months of life. It starts out as a flat red mark anywhere on the body, most often on the face, scalp, chest or back. Usually there is only one mark, but some children may have more than one, particularly if they are part of a multiple birth.
During the child’s first year, the red mark grows rapidly and becomes a spongy mass that protrudes from the skin. The hemangioma then enters a rest phase and, eventually, it begins to slowly disappear.
Around fifty percent of all hemangiomas disappear by the age of 5, and nearly all hemangiomas are resolved by the age of 10. Although the color of the birthmark also fades, faint — but permanent — discoloration of the skin or residual extra skin may remain.
A hemangioma consists of an abnormally dense group of extra blood vessels. It is not clear what causes the blood vessels to group together, although there may be a hereditary component involved.
Hemangiomas occur more often in:
Occasionally, a hemangioma can break down and develop a sore. This can lead to a painful feeling, bleeding, scarring or infection. Depending on where the hemangioma is situated, it may interfere with your child’s vision, breathing, hearing or elimination, but this is rare.
The treatment usually is not needed, unless the nodule interferes with the vision or breathing capabilities. The majority of hemangiomas never need any form of treatment. Some parents feel that hemangioma treatment is necessary because the marks can be disfiguring and may cause social or psychological problems. Doctors, however, may be hesitant to treat a hemangioma that is not causing physical problems because hemangiomas usually fade gradually without a treatment, and because treatments have potential side effects.
If the growth interferes with the child’s vision or causes other problems, treatment options may include:
However, scientific research to find other treatments with fewer side effects is still ongoing. Some newer, though still experimental, treatments include beta blockers, interferon alfa and topical immune suppressants.
The pulsed dye laser is a device that produces a bright light that is absorbed by abnormal blood vessels, which are destroyed without damaging the surrounding skin. The laser uses yellow light, which is very safe and does not result in any long-term skin damage.