Once upon a time, a pregnant woman was craving strawberries. She did not get it and when she gave birth, the child had a birthmark in the form of a strawberry. Coincidence? Yes! There are several stories about birthmarks- some of which may be true whilst others are completely false and outrageous. In this article, we will delve into birthmarks and explore all the truth concerning birthmarks.
Birthmarks are marks on the skin that develops before or soon after birth. They are usually found in babies and they either grow with it or they disappear with age. They are usually not cancerous. Birthmarks may appear on any part of the body; face, legs, thighs, stomach, etc. Some birthmarks are large whilst others are small. Also, there are different colours of birthmarks.
Most birthmarks do not cause harm but a few indicate an underlying medical condition. Some people, prefer to remove their birthmarks for them to look prettier- especially when it is located on the part of the body where everyone can see- the face.
Surprisingly, scientists do not know the exact cause of birthmarks. One thing they do know is that birthmarks are not caused by what a pregnant woman does or does not do; eat or does not eat. They cannot be prevented. While a few birthmarks run in the family, most of them are not inherited. Scientists have managed to group them into various categories.
Birthmarks can be grouped mainly into two types:
1. Vascular birthmarks
As the name suggests, it has something to do with the blood vessels (arteries, veins, capillaries). This type occurs when blood vessels under a particular area of the skin do not form the way they should: the blood vessels can be wider than a normal blood vessel or there could be too many blood vessels at one area resulting in birthmarks on the outer part of the skin.
2. Pigmented birthmarks
This type occurs when the cells that create the pigment(colour) in your skin grows excessively more than they should.
1. Macular stains
They are commonly known as salmon patches, stork bites or angel kisses. They are red or pink in colour and flat. They are situated on the forehead, between the eyes or eyelids; on the back of the neck; on the nose, upper lip or back of the head. They are caused by a cluster of tiny blood vessels under the skin. They are more noticeable when the baby cries. They usually fade on their own at age 1 or 2 and do not require treatment but some grow with it into adulthood.
These types are usually pink, bright red if they are superficial on the skin or blue when they are deep within the skin. They are mostly found on the head or neck. This type usually manifests itself a few days or weeks after a child is born. This birthmark usually grows quickly during the first 6 months of the baby’s life becoming elevated and larger but most of them fade away when the child reaches adolescence. They leave a pale mark which is usually referred to as the strawberry mark.
Some hemangiomas that grow quickly can be removed with surgery if they interfere with the child’s ability to see, breathe, feed or other body functions.
3. Port-wine stains
This was given this name because it looks as if the wine was spilt on the face, legs, arms or neck. They are caused by the abnormal formation of blood vessels. They begin lighter in colour (pink, red) and deepen with age (purple or dark-red). Most of them will become thicker and larger. Unfortunately, this type of birthmark does not fade on its own. If present on the face, a test must be performed to rule out the presence of an underlying medical condition. If present on the eyelid, it may increase the chance of getting glaucoma (the leading cause of blindness).
Mole is a term generally used to describe a brown spot. They can appear at any point in life. Those that appear at birth are called congenital nevi and will be there forever. Moles are usually brown, black or tan. Most moles are harmless but congenital moles have the likelihood of developing into a skin cancer called melanoma especially the larger ones but it hardly happens. Nevertheless, moles must be checked to see if there has been any change in terms of size.
2. Cafe-au-lait spots
This means ‘coffee with milk’ spots from French. This is because, the spots are oval and range from light brown to medium brown like coffee with milk, hence obtaining that name. They are usually found on the legs, buttocks and torso. They can appear anytime from birth to childhood and may fade with time. If a child has more than 6 or several spots on the body, it may be an indication of a rare condition called neurofibromatosis.
3. Mongolian spots
They are blue in colour and mostly found on dark people. They are harmless and may be mistaken for bruising. They go away on their own around age 4.
Most birthmarks are harmless and fade with time, hence, they do not require removal. Some birthmarks may be embarrassing because they appear visible and people might stare, hence such individuals will opt for them to be removed. Other types of birthmarks may lead to an increased risk for a certain medical condition. Examples include moles or hemangiomas. These birthmarks can be monitored for any changes or to clear any doubt, you can consult a doctor(dermatologist).
Some of the techniques that may be used to get rid off of birthmarks include:
· Laser therapy- uses highly concentrated light energy to lighten or remove the birthmarks especially those with port-wine stains. This is performed by a dermatologist or a surgeon. The process may not be comfortable but the results are significant and permanent.
· Beta-blockers- they are oral medication that may be given to individuals especially people with hemangiomas.
· Corticosteroids-they are anti-inflammatory drugs that can be injected directly into the birthmark which will act on the wider blood vessel in the case of vascular birthmarks and shrink them.
· Surgery-this can be done to remove moles especially the larger ones. This type of surgery is simple and can be performed by a dermatologist.
1. Healthline. Everything you need to know about birthmarks. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/birthmark
2. Birthmarks. Available at https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/birthmarks.html
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