NEW YORK – For people with port wine stain birthmarks, laser surgery is one way to soften the appearance.
Treatment can be uncomfortable, and in the past, some doctors recommended waiting until a child was a few years old when they could better tolerate anesthesia.
New improvements to laser devices means for some patients, the earlier the better.
Riley Shehigian, 19, was born with a red birthmark that covered the left side of her face.
"They said, 'Oh, it's just bruising from labor and birth, but it didn't go away," said Chandra Shehigian, Riley's mother.
Dermatologists diagnosed the port wine stain birthmark when Riley was five days old. Five days later, doctors began treatment.
“For her sake we wanted to treat her, and we wanted to treat her young. Hopefully, she won’t remember what she went through,” said Grant Shehigian, Riley’s father.
Using a device called the V-Beam, laser doctors delivered quick pulses to the red area of Riley's face.
"The laser, it goes through the skin, heats up the blood. That heat expands and destroys the lining of the vessel, hopefully destroying the vessel wall," said Dr. Leonard Bernstein, a dermatologist at Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York.
The laser allows doctors to treat a section about the size of a dime, and then repeat until they’ve treated the entire birthmark.
"The treatment of an infant is safe, but it does have the feel of a rubber band snapping on the surface of the skin," Bernstein said.
Bernstein said the updated laser device makes treatment easier on patients since it's faster with no need for anesthesia.
"The fact that someone can't recognize it. That's the goal. That's the hope," said Grant Shehigian.
Other treatments have been tried for the treatment of port wine stains, including freezing, surgery and radiation.
Doctors said laser therapy is the only one that destroys the malformed blood vessels without causing damage to the skin.