A haemangioma is also often called a Strawberry birthmark. It is one of the most common birthmarks and usually appears within the first few weeks of life. A haemangioma is actually a tumour of blood vessels which is not cancerous. They will typically grow quite rapidly over the first few months and so this is often a very worrying time for parents. Usually, they will then stop growing and then slowly decrease in size over the first few years with many going away completely. Once they have stopped shrinking, which can take a few years, there will be a soft, fatty lump of loose tissue left behind.
Although many haemangiomas will resolve on their own without any problems, some will need the advice and treatment of a specialist. Haemangiomas which affect vision, breathing, swallowing or hearing need to be assessed quickly and your paediatric plastic surgeon working together with a paediatric dermatologist will be able to help with these birthmarks.
As they grow quickly they can push on the skin and sometimes result in ulcers which may bleed and be uncomfortable for your baby. It’s important that if your baby has a birthmark like this that you see a specialist paediatric plastic surgeon or paediatric dermatologist who knows how to assess and treat these common birthmarks of infancy.
What happens if a haemangioma bleeds or ulcerates?
When a haemangioma ulcerates through the skin, the wound can bleed and become infected. It is important to have specialist wound care to ensure this is treated during this phase. If the birthmark has bled or ulcerated in the past, it is likely to have formed a permanent scar.
Is there anything I could have done to prevent this?
Most birthmarks like haemangiomas just occur by chance and there is little that can be done to prevent them
How is a haemangioma treated?
Some haemangiomas require no treatment at all and can be simply monitored closely by a specialist. However, your specialist will often advise treatment of haemangiomas which are particularly large, ulcerated, or affect functioning. If there are multiple haemangiomas then further tests will be required.
Initially, treatment with a medicine called a beta-blocker may be recommended. This often works very well to slow the growth of the haemangioma and can reduce the complications such as bleeding associated with these birthmarks.
Can the birthmark be removed?
Each haemangioma is different, and I will tailor my surgery based on the exact location and size of each haemangioma. As many haemangiomas seem to occur on the face, it is very important to plan the position and orientation of any incisions so that the final scars are in the best possible location. Part of this planning process involves understanding how each surgery will affect the delicate nearby structures such as the eyelids, mouth and nose, and to try and avoid distortion of these important facial features.
Although each surgical plan will be tailored for your child, the final aims are to use a range of techniques that will be able to reduce or remove the appearance of the birthmark. This should be done in a way which is gentle on the child from both a physical and psychological point of view and causes minimal distortion of the normal tissues.