Ever wondered, why we are supposed to mention our birthmarks in personal identification documentations? Well, the fact that birthmarks are as unique as every individual, most of us have them and that they serve the purpose of identification like none other.
What are birthmarks?
Most of us are born with one/more marks on our body. These marks can be of different colours, shapes, sizes, or appearances. The presence of these marks at or shortly after birth is called as birthmarks.
A dark coloured mark is quite common. However, red, white, tan, blue, pink, purple and brown coloured birthmarks are also seen. Most of the birthmarks are harmless and some may even fade with time. Few of them may also be a sign of some underlying medical conditions.
Contrary to the myths and popular beliefs, the exact cause of birthmarks are still not known. Most of us get them simply because of chance.
Some of the birthmarks are present due to excessive skin pigment, while others are because of the abnormal growth of blood vessels.
Types of Birthmarks
There are mainly two types of birthmarks:
1. Pigmented: The skin pigment melanin is concentrated at the place of birthmarks. They can be of different colours like brown, purple, pink, black, bluish, or grey. They are further divided into:
- Moles or Nevi: The medical term for moles is Melanocytic naevus. Moles are small round spots of dark colour on the skin; occasionally they can be large and pink or skin coloured. All moles are not considered as birthmarks. They may or may not be raised like a bump on the skin and have few strands of hair growing out of them. A person can be born with a mole or can get them later in life.
- Mongolian spots: Often appear as a dark coloured patch on the back or buttocks of a baby. These spots are commonly seen in dark skinned babies. The colour usually fades away with time. Most of the people consider it as injury caused during difficult labour which is untrue.
- Cafe-au-lait spot: Coffee coloured skin patches which may be present at birth or can develop shortly after birth. They are mostly oval shaped and may fade away with age. Neurofibromatosis is a rare condition where the cafe au lait spots are more than 3 – 4 in number. Consult a doctor if you suspect this condition.
2. Vascular: These type of birthmarks are developed because of the overgrowth of blood vessels. These are of several subtypes:
- Haemangiomas of infancy: A child born with this kind of birthmark may have a strawberry-like growth of blood vessels on the skin, known as strawberry haemangiomas. Others may have a swollen bluish purplish skin where the blood vessels have clumped together under the skin. This type is known as deep haemangioma. Typically both these kinds tend to grow and spread in the initial years after birth. It does look scary, but there is nothing to be worried about them. Most of the haemangiomas shrink off between 2-10 years of age and just leave a mark behind.
- Salmon patches: Medically known as Naevus flammeus, also known as a macular stain. Red or pink coloured patches, occurring as birthmarks are known as salmon patches. They are even known as angel’s kiss if they are present on the face. Stork bites are the ones which are present on the back of your neck. Most of them are found on face and neck area, which may or may not fade away with time. It takes about a year’s time for it to disappear.
- Port wine stains: Also known as Capillary malformation. Wine or reddish purple coloured birthmarks are present on one side of the body, in particular on the face. Port wine stains are normally harmless, but they do not fade away. If present on face and legs, they may be a symptom of other medical conditions.
Most of the birthmarks are quite visible and can be easily identified as birth marks.
Some of the symptoms of vascular birthmarks can be:
- Coloured patches or marks that appear shortly after birth
- Itchy skin
- Painful sore patches of skin
- Infected skin or skin that has developed ulcer
- Bleeding skin
- Patches of skin more pronounced during fever
Most of the birthmarks are harmless, although they stay permanently. Small ones are usually not much noticeable. Usually, most of the Mongolian spots and haemangiomas of infancy fade over a period.
If a person finds a particular birthmark disfiguring or is stressed about his appearance, they may take up surgical and laser treatment.
Moles are removed surgically, while cafe-au-lait may respond well to laser treatments.
Haemangiomas may be a matter of concern for if they have become infected, are blocking airways, or blocking vision. Then these are treated by medication, surgery or other therapies.
Port wine stains may be a sign of an underlying health problem. Some of the moles may become cancerous later in life.
- Sturge-Weber syndrome – If the port wine stain is present on the forehead scalp and eye area it is considered as a symptom of the Sturge-Weber syndrome which is marked by seizures.
- Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome –- The affected limb in this medical condition may have port wine stains.
- Glaucoma: If the port wine stain is around the eyes, the person is considered to be at a high risk of developing glaucoma.
- Social distress and stigma: Certain birthmarks can become a cause of social distress and disgrace. Myths and misconceptions about birthmarks, disfigurement, caused due to birthmarks are emotionally upsetting. Girl child with scary haemangiomas may experience mental torture.
When should you worry about birthmarks?
In case, the birthmarks have sores, get infected, itchy and bleeding or have been changing in colour and pattern; you should get a doctor’s consultation.
It is advisable to clean the infection with soapy water and antiseptics. Apply pressure until the bleeding has stopped.
You should get the moles checked up once in a while especially if they have changed in colour, form and size.
It is not possible to prevent getting birthmarks. One should use a high quality, high SPF sunscreen on skin to prevent any further complications. This sunscreen application prevents absorption of more sunlight by the pigmented skin and thus reduces the risk of skin cancer.
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