Ear, Nose and Throat (Otolaryngology) – Head and Neck Surgery

Port Wine Stains

Port­ wine stains, also known as capillary malformations, are a birthmark in which the veins in the skin become swollen and gradually expand. Present at birth or shortly after, port wine stains occur in about three out of 1,000 people. The condition persists throughout life, and the birthmark will change in appearance as the child matures. The characteristics of port wine stains are:

  • Most often occurring on the face but can appear anywhere on the body, especially the neck and upper torso
  • Flat, pink, or red stain on the skin
  • Gradual darkening to red or purple over time, if left untreated
  • Continually growing as the child matures
  • Lesions can thicken, become raised, and even develop small lumps
  • In severe cases, significant stretching and disfigurement (hypertrophy)

Early Intervention for Port­ Wine Stains

For many children born with a port­ wine stain, early intervention with laser therapy is recommended in order to stop the natural progression (i.e., darkening and thickening) of the stain. Port wine stains can not only be disfiguring, but may negatively impact function if located near vital organs such as eyes or mouth. Ongoing monitoring and periodic treatments are needed to prevent further development. In addition, stains that involve the areas around the upper or lower eyelids should be evaluated by a vascular birthmark specialist and closely observed for possible association with Sturge­-Weber syndrome, characterized by vascular malformation involvement of the eye and brain.

Treatment Options for Port­ Wine Stains

Laser therapy for port wine stains is an effective treatment option not only for children but older patients as well. It lightens the stain to a more comfortable level, even for those who have tried laser therapy in the past. For more advanced conditions, a combination of laser therapy and/or surgery may be needed, especially to treat disfigurement of the face. Surgery for capillary malformations can be used to reduce thickened tissue and restore normal contour and symmetry.