Hemangiomas: Red Birthmarks Found in Children

A hemangioma is a type of birthmark caused by extra blood vessels near the surface of the skin. Hemangiomas can appear anywhere on the body but are most common on the scalp, face, chest, and back. Treatment is typically not required unless the hemangioma becomes symptomatic.

Symptoms of Hemangiomas

A hemangioma is a benign skin condition that usually appears shortly after birth. The characteristic symptom is a red mark that may grow to a spongy, protruding mass during a child’s first year of life after which time the nodule may stabilize and eventually start to disappear. Nearly all hemangiomas resolve by the age of 10; however, there may be some residual extra skin or skin discoloration.

Causes of Hemangiomas

A hemangioma is a dense collection of blood vessels. It is unclear what causes the blood vessels to group together, but it may be the result of hereditary factors. Those most at risk for developing this skin condition include Caucasians, females, and premature infants. A hemangioma can be diagnosed based on the appearance of the nodule, so additional testing is not required.

Treatment of Hemangiomas

Doctors are often reluctant to treat hemangiomas since they typically resolve with time. Parents may choose to consult an expert in dermatology if the nodule is disfiguring and likely to cause emotional or social problems for the child. The most common treatments include topical or oral beta blocker medications, corticosteroids, and laser surgery. Research is underway to determine the effectiveness of topical immune suppressants and interferon alfa in reducing the appearance of hemangiomas.

When to Consult a Doctor

Parents should consult a doctor if their child’s hemangioma becomes painful, bleeds, or develops into a sore that can cause scarring and infection. Treatment may also be necessary if the nodule impedes breathing, vision, hearing, or other functions. For asymptomatic hemangiomas, parents should consult with a dermatology provider or dermatologist to ensure that they fully understand the risks and benefits of treatment since most infantile hemangiomas resolve during childhood.