When Should You Be Worrying About Your Birthmarks?
Of all the spots on our bodies, from acne to scars, birthmarks get the least attention. Are these always harmless?
Depending on their size and location, the marks on your body are either the least of your concerns or one of those things that you obsess about all your life.
While a tiny mole on your collarbone might not be a cause for concern, there are several reasons why some basic awareness about birthmarks is crucial. FIT gets an expert to break it down for you.
What Is a Birthmark?
According to Healthline, birthmarks are a common type of discoloration that appear on your skin at birth, and they could be of various shapes, colors and sizes.
While the name suggests otherwise, it is common for birthmarks to develop a few weeks later — and not exactly at the time of birth.
FIT spoke to Dr Banani Choudhary, Consultant Dermatologist at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre.
“In 80 percent of the cases, a birthmark is harmless. The risk mostly depends upon its type, site and size.”Dr Banani Choudhary
Birthmarks could fall into two broad categories: vascular and pigmented.
- Vascular marks appear when blood vessels accumulate in one area or are wider than they should be. Salmon patches, hemangiomas and port-wine stains (nevus flammeus) are examples.
- Pigmented marks may occur when there is a cluster of pigment cells in one part of the body. Moles or congenital nevi, café au lait spots and Mongolian blue spots are some types.
An understanding of each of these is important to know when a doctor’s consultation may be needed.
NHS describes the three kinds of pigmented birthmarks as:
- Congenital melanocytic naevi: Commonly called moles, these could range from pink to light brown or black in color, and they could also be of various sizes. While many of them may disappear with time, if they increase in size or darken, there is a possibility of them developing into skin cancer.
- Café au lait spots: These spots are often oval-shaped and coffee-colored skin patches that develop in children at birth or during their early childhood. If they increase in number, they may be a sign of neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that affects how nerve cells form and grow. The condition is usually benign, but there is a rare chance of it being cancerous.
- Mongolian spots: These are flat bluish-grey marks, more commonly observed in lower backs or buttocks of dark-skinned infants at birth. Dr Choudhary informs us that these are harmless and they usually disappear with time.
The three types of vascular birthmarks could be explained as:
- Salmon patch (stork mark): These are flat red or pink patches that could appear on eyelids, forehead or the back of the neck, and they may fade with time. They don’t usually require medical treatment.
- Hemangiomas: They are raised marks on the skin that may be pink, blue or bright red in color, and they may appear anywhere on the body. These are also known as ‘strawberry marks’. They usually grow initially, but shrink and disappear with time. But if they continue getting big, they may interfere with the child’s vision or breathing — requiring medical attention.
Dr Choudhary says,
“You may need to worry about hemangiomas if they continue growing bigger in size. This could lead to swelling, which could in turn cause bleeding. In such a case, a pediatrician or dermatologist must be consulted as soon as possible.”
- Capillary malformation (port wine stain): These are flat red or purple marks that could vary in size and appear on any part of the body — more often on the face, chest and neck. They don’t usually fade with time, and in fact, may become more prominent later in life. The ones that occur on the eyelids would have to be treated.
When Should You Consult a Doctor?
The most obvious signs of the need for medical assistance would be disproportionate increases in the size and number of marks on a child’s body.
Dr Choudhary suggests, “When hemangiomas grow and cause discomfort, they may need to be treated. It then becomes a medical condition requiring a pediatrician and some oral medication prescribed by him/her. If that doesn’t treat it, we offer laser treatment.”
“It is always a better option to visit a doctor in the case of birthmarks. People may not realize when a mole is unusually large and becomes a sign of melanoma. Doctors can help you differentiate a normal spot from a potential symptom of a bigger problem. When the location of these marks is near the airways, mouth, nose or eyes, do take an expert’s opinion.”Dr Choudhary
Is there a particular cause for birthmarks? Not really, she says.
While you may be more prone to them if it’s in the family, anybody could be born with marks. Some are also caused by gene mutations. There is no way to prevent them.
Speaking of lasers, she informs us that the procedure is completely harmless, but it could take time — around 8-12 sessions.
So, birthmarks are usually benign but it’s always best to consult a doctor to be sure.
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