Should You Worry About Your Child's Birthmark?
November 11, 2020 | Farah Jassawalla

Should You Worry About Your Child's Birthmark?

What are birthmarks?

Birthmarks are a common form of discoloration that are either present at birth or develop shortly after birth. They may occur anywhere on the face or body and vary in color, size, appearance, and shape. They are usually non-cancerous, but if you see a birthmark on your child's skin, it's wise to get it checked by a dermatologist.


What causes birthmarks?

The underlying cause of the vast majority of birthmarks is still not known. Most of them are not inherited, and they’re not related to anything that a pregnant woman does or doesn't do during her pregnancy.


Types of birthmarks

Birthmarks can be classified into two broad categories, which are:

Vascular birthmarks—they occur due to some alterations in the way blood vessels are placed. For example, they may occur due to clusters of blood vessels in one particular area or if the blood vessels are wider than they should be.

Pigmented birthmarks—they occur when there's an overabundance of pigment cells in one area, and their color can range from brown or black to bluish or blue-grey.


Types of pigmented birthmarks

Congenital melanocytosis: These are usually blue in color and look like bruises. Dark-skinned people tend to develop these more often, and they generally appear on the buttocks or lower back.


Pigmented nevi: These are growths on the skin and appear brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, either alone or in groups. Moles can darken with time after sun exposure, during the teen years, while taking birth control pills, or during pregnancy.


Congenital nevi: These nevi are present at birth and have a slightly increased risk of developing into skin cancer. Large congenital nevi have a higher chance of developing into cancer than smaller congenital nevi. Any birthmarks seen on your child's skin at the time of birth should be reported for further examination.


Cafe-au-lait spots: These are light brown oval spots on the skin that appear at birth or in the first few years of a child's life. Several cafe-au-lait spots may signal the presence of a genetic disorder that causes abnormal cell growth of nerve tissues known as neurofibromatosis.


How to monitor birthmarks

Usually, birthmarks are harmless and fade on their own, but early detection and monitoring is still necessary. Your doctor can help you monitor the birthmark for growth. You should also look for changes in size, shape, or color. If you notice any rapid growth in a birthmark, let the doctor know. Children should also be aware and should know the importance of monitoring their moles for changes as they grow older.


How will your doctor diagnose a birthmark?

The first thing your doctor will do is examine it. They may use an instrument called the Wood's lamp to see parts of the skin that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Many birthmarks on a child's skin can be a sign of something going on inside their body. As mentioned earlier, it could mean your child has neurofibromatosis. To confirm the diagnosis, your child may need an X-ray or CT scan. 

How to treat birthmarks

Most birthmarks do not require any monitoring or intervention. However, some birthmarks may cause unease because of their appearance. Some techniques for removing birthmarks are:

Laser therapy—it can remove or lighten some of the stains. Permanent results are seen and temporary bruising and swelling will also be felt.

Beta-blockers—vascular birthmarks can be reduced by taking this drug as it shrinks the blood vessels and reduces the flow of blood.

Surgery—some larger moles can be successfully treated via surgical removal. If it's very large, it may be removed in sections.

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Farah Jassawalla

Farah Jassawalla is a graduate of the Lahore School of Economics. She is also a writer, and healthcare enthusiast, having closely observed case studies while working with Lahore's thriving general physicians at their clinics.