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What Is Nevus Flammeus?

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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2014
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Nevus flammeus is a birthmark that is more commonly called a port-wine stain caused by pooled blood underneath the skin. It has an appearance similar to the stain that a splash of red wine would make. Usually harmless, this birthmark does not require any treatment, but those who wish to lessen the discoloration for cosmetic purposes may explore laser treatments.

The capillaries, or small blood vessels, underneath the skin require nerve fibers to function properly. If these nerve fibers are defective or there aren't enough of them in a certain area of skin, the capillaries over expand. This allows for a pooling of blood underneath the surface of the skin, causing nevus flammeus. As of 2011, there is no evidence that this birthmark is a result of any abnormality that occurred during pregnancy, and the discoloration is not preventable.

Typically, nevus flammeus is harmless and may only cause emotional distress related to cosmetic reasons. When the discoloration appears on an eyelid, the child may be at an increased risk for glaucoma later in life; however, this occurs rarely. Birthmarks that appear on the forehead may possibly be a symptom of a rare neurological condition. Sturge-Weber syndrome can cause developmental delays, seizures, and learning disabilities. Children with nevus flammeus in these areas should be monitored by a physician for signs of complications.

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Nevus flammeus is fairly easy to diagnose on the basis of its appearance alone. On an infant, this mark will appear pink and will lie relatively flat on the skin. As the child grows older, the discoloration will darken to a purple or deep red color. It may gradually thicken and develop a rougher texture. Commonly, a patient will have this birthmark on his face or a limb; however, it may appear anywhere on the body.

Parents can help care for their child by applying a moisturizer to the discoloration daily. This helps prevent excessive dryness, which may occur with this type of birthmark. The child should not be allowed to scratch the mark, and a physician should be consulted if nevus flammeus becomes itchy or painful. Some children may benefit from psychological counseling if they exhibit signs of excessive self-consciousness or if other children tease them about their birthmarks.

While treatment is generally not necessary, nevus flammeus discoloration may be lessened by laser therapy. Several sessions with a pulsed-dye laser are needed to lighten the mark. Best results are generally seen when the treatment is begun during infancy. Sometimes, the discoloration can gradually return, and additional laser treatments may be required throughout the patient's life.

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