What are the treatments for port-wine stains?
- Pulsed dye laser is the treatment of choice for port-wine stains. It is a treatment that was developed in the 1980s, so plenty is known about it.
- The treatment fires tiny lasers at the blood vessels in the skin, making them seal off.
- Initially just a small area will be treated, as a test. This can judge how well the child handles the treatment and whether they find it too painful. Children say it feels like being flicked by a rubber band.
- The skin can be numbed with local anaesthetic cream beforehand. But if the child finds it too painful or there is a large area to be treated then they can have the treatment under a general anaesthetic. Most hospitals will only give a general anaesthetic over the age of 2 years for the laser treatment.
- Typically about six laser sessions are given over a period of a year.
- Laser works best when used at a young age and when the port-wine stain is pale pink rather than deep purple.
- About three quarters of children have a good response to laser treatment, with the port-wine stain getting much paler.
- In the long term the skin area can go back to a darker colour, about ten years after laser treatment.
This picture shows a severe port-wine stain before laser treatment (on the left) and following treatment. You can see how it is slightly paler afterwards.
The picture below shows a paler port-wine stain in a child that responded very well to laser treatment:
Images from Openi® (Open Access Biomedical Image Search Engine)
For skin patches that have not responded well to laser, or if the person would like a bit more cover-up for a special occasion, camouflage creams can used. These come in a wide variety of colours and can be matched to the person's skin colour.
Waterproof creams have been designed. Usually the cream is removed each night with a cleanser.
When is the best time to treat a port-wine stain?
Most port-wine stains are quite pale and flat in a newborn. If left alone they gradually get thicker, bumpy and darker. This is why early treatment, in a young child, is better than in an adult.
Did you find this information useful?
- Rajaratnam R, Laughlin SA, Dudley D; Pulsed dye laser double-pass treatment of patients with resistant capillary malformations. Lasers Med Sci. 2011 Apr 8.
- Klein A, Baumler W, Landthaler M, et al; Laser and IPL treatment of port-wine stains: therapy options, limitations, and practical aspects. Lasers Med Sci. 2011 Mar 10.
- Sturge-Weber Syndrome, SWS; Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM)