The most common problem with birthmarks relates to their psychological and/or emotional effects, especially when they are large and occur in prominent areas of the body which are not normally covered by clothing (such as the facial area). Severe markings, particularly those such as port wine stains and haemangiomas may make the affected person feel self-conscious or emotionally distressed, especially if the marking is regarded as a ‘disfigurement’. If no physical health interference is present, treatment can be considered for cosmetic purposes.
It is rare for a birthmark to become a serious physical health risk. When they do, possibilities include:
- Strawberry marks (haemangiomas) can develop open sores or ulcers (increasing risk of bleeding and secondary infections). 14
- Strawberry marks have also been known to interfere with a child’s ability to feed sufficiently and in rare instances, breathe comfortably. Those that occur around the salivary gland (in front of the ear) can sometimes cause a blockage of the ear canal (as the birthmark grows). This can lead to hearing problems.
- Melanocytic nevi (moles) can experience adverse changes, becoming malignant leading to the development of melanoma, a form of skin cancer. 15
- Glaucoma (loss of eyesight) is a risk factor for those with port wine stain birthmarks near the eye. (16) Haemangiomas on the eyelid can also impair visual capacity by placing increased pressure on the surface of the eye (pressing on the optic nerve, causing optic nerve atrophy or pressure on the cornea) or leading to drooping of the eyelid (ptosis), resulting in occlusion amblyopia (decreased vision due to the visual media becoming opaque).
- Large port wine stain birthmarks on the scalp or forehead are associated with Sturge-Weber syndrome and are asymptomatic link to this neurological disorder.
- Haemangiomas that are situated on the pelvis or lower back area have also been known to be associated with pelvic abnormalities and a tethered spinal cord (a neurological problem whereby tissue attachments limit movement between the spinal cord and the spinal column. In this instance, an MRI may determine the associated abnormality (condition) and surgery can help to correct any spinal cord compression problems.
14. Medline Plus. August 2018. Hemangioma: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001459.htm [Accessed 29.08.2018]
15. National Cancer Institute. October 2011. What does a mole look like?: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/mole-photos [Accessed 29.08.2018]
16. US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. December 2017. Glaucoma in Patients with Eyes Close to Areas Affected by Port-wine Stain has Lateral and Gender Predilection: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5742919/ [Accessed 29.08.2018]