YOUR HEALTH: Treating port-wine birthmarks at a much earlier age

About one million people in the united states have port wine stain birthmarks.

NEW YORK CITY – For people with port-wine stain birthmarks, laser surgery is one way to soften the appearance.

Treatment can be uncomfortable, and in the past some doctors recommended waiting until a child was a few years old and could better tolerate anesthesia.

But that's changing.

It's hard to see the red birthmark 19-month old Riley Shehigian is was born with covering the left side of her face.

"They said 'Oh, it's just bruising from labor and birth', but it didn't go away," her month, Chandra Shehigian, remembered.

Dermatologists diagnosed the port-wine stain birthmark when Riley was five days old.

Five days later, doctors began treatment.


"Hopefully she won't remember what she went through."

Using a device called the V-Beam Laser, doctors delivered quick pulses to the red area of Riley's face.

"The laser, it goes through the skin, heats up the blood," explained Dr. Leonard Bernstein, a dermatologist with the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York.

"That heat expands and destroys the lining of the vessel, hopefully destroying the vessel wall."

The laser, seen here during an adult treatment, allows doctors to treat a section about the size of a dime and then repeat until they've lasered the entire birthmark.

"The treatment of an infant is safe," said Dr. Bernsten, "but it does have the feel of a rubber band snapping on the surface of the skin."

There has been debate about what age to treat affected children.  Many doctors will wait until the patient is three or four years old.   


Dr. Leonard Bernstein says he treats infants at less than one year of age while the skin is relatively thin.

"The spot size of the area of involvement is relatively small as the child is small," he said.

"Treatments are faster than treating a three-year-old.   Treatment early is much more effective because we can treat a small area in a faster treatment session."

Dr. Bernstein said the updated laser device makes treatment easier on patients since its faster with no need for anesthesia.

"The fact that someone can't recognize it, that's the goal. That's the hope," said her father.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.