Laser skin therapy is a low-risk, noninvasive procedure used to treat birthmarks, vascular anomalies and other skin conditions. Medical lasers are the standard of care to treat skin and vascular conditions because the strong beam of light can pinpoint a very small area. This lets the doctor avoid damage to surrounding healthy skin and tissue.
There are many different kinds of medical lasers. The pulsed dye laser is most commonly used in children to lighten the color of red lesions, such as hemangiomas and vascular malformations. Light from a pulsed dye laser is absorbed by the redness in the blood vessels of a lesion. It passes through healthy skin, doing no damage. The light heats up the blood vessels and destroys them. Once any bruising at the treatment site fades, the red marks will appear paler.
The pulsed dye laser is used to treat:
- Port-wine stains. This type of vascular anomaly is caused by enlarged capillaries in the skin. Patients can expect the color of port-wine stains to lighten by 50 to 70 percent after laser treatments.
- Lymphatic malformations. These develop as sponge-like growths and slow down the circulation of lymph.
- Spider angiomas. These are caused by an abnormal collection of blood vessels that appear near the skin's surface.
- Viral warts. These are a type of skin infection.
- Ulcerated or residual hemangiomas. Ulceration is a complication of an infantile hemangioma. Ulceration is when the skin over the hemangioma begins to break open. This can lead to residual scarring. Laser treatments relieve pain and help promote healing of the ulcer.
Doctors use other types of lasers when children need treatment for pigmented birthmarks, benign (noncancerous) raised birthmarks or hair removal. Other types of lasers include:
- Alexandrite laser
- Nd:Yag laser
- Fractionated CO2 laser
For most conditions, children receive a series of four to six laser treatments in an outpatient setting. Laser treatment may be slightly uncomfortable, but treatments are quick, usually lasting just a few minutes. In rare cases, because of the location of a vascular anomaly or the extent of the body surface it covers, children may need surgical anesthesia to put them to sleep during the laser treatment. Doctors at Riley at IU Health make every attempt to perform laser skin therapy without general anesthesia whenever possible.
Laser therapy is faster and results in less swelling and pain than traditional surgery. The word "laser" is short for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Laser therapy produces non-ionizing radiation. It does not have the same health risks associated with long-term exposure to ionizing radiation (the type of radiation produced by X-rays).
What to Expect
What to Expect
Before your child undergoes laser skin therapy, the doctor will talk with you and your child about the benefits, risks and expectations of the laser therapy.
The primary risk in laser skin therapy is damage to the eyes. All patients wear protective goggles during treatment.
On the day before laser skin therapy:
- If your child will require general anesthesia, he or she should not eat or drink anything after midnight on the day before treatment.
- Talk with your child to prepare him or her for the procedure. Let him or her know that he or she will need to wear protective eye goggles.
On the day of the laser skin therapy:
- If your child will receive general anesthesia, he or she should not eat anything the morning of the procedure.
- Make sure your child wears comfortable clothes.
- When you arrive at the outpatient center or clinic, a nurse will meet with you and your child.
- You will be taken to a patient room or a treatment room.
- Your child may need to change into a hospital gown depending on the location of the area to be treated.
- If needed, an anesthesiologist will meet with you to discuss the use of general anesthesia, which will keep your child asleep during the treatment.
- The pediatric dermatologist will meet with you to discuss the laser skin therapy and answer any questions you may have.
- If needed, a local anesthetic may be administered to minimize pain at the treatment site.
- You can remain with your child during the entire procedure to help keep him or her calm.
- The doctor will place protective eyewear over your child’s eyes.
- If your child needs to be asleep, general anesthesia will be administered. His or her heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen level will be constantly monitored. The pediatric dermatologist will begin the laser skin therapy treatment once your child is asleep.
- If your child is awake for the procedure, the pediatric dermatologist will tell him or her that the therapy is about to begin. He or she may feel short stings as the laser is administered.
- Treatments are very quick and generally last just a few minutes.
Immediately after laser skin therapy:
- If your child received general anesthesia, he or she will be moved to a recovery room to wake up. You can be with him or her during this time.
- A nurse will monitor your child’s vital signs.
- When your child wakes up, nurses will continue to check blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates until they return to normal.
- After your child is fully awake, liquids may be given to drink.
- Children generally go home an hour after waking up from laser skin therapy. If they did not receive anesthesia they can go home right away.
- The pediatric dermatologist will talk with you about the therapy’s outcomes.
- The doctor will discuss instructions you need to follow for the next few days.
Once you return home from laser skin therapy:
- In general, your child can return to normal activities right away.
- Usually pain medicine is not required.
- Be sure your child wears sun protection and uses sunscreen on treated areas whenever he or she is outside until the area heals and on a daily basis going forward.
- The color of a treated birthmark may darken and look purple for seven to 10 days after treatment.
- An ulcerated hemangioma may ooze or bleed for 24 hours after treatment.
- Pain should lessen in an ulcerated hemangioma 48 hours to a week after treatment.
- If any treated areas become crusty or develop scabs, call the doctor for instructions.
Key Points to Remember
Key Points to Remember
- Laser skin therapy is used to treat birthmarks, vascular anomalies and other skin conditions.
- Laser skin therapy delivers precise treatment while avoiding damage to surrounding healthy areas.
- The pulsed dye laser is most commonly used in children to lighten the color of red lesions, such as hemangiomas and vascular malformations.
- For most conditions, children receive a series of four to six laser treatments in an outpatient setting.
- Laser treatment usually only takes minutes to perform.
Support Services & Resources
Support Services & Resources
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
In addition to our primary hospital location at the Academic Health Center in Indianapolis, IN, we have convenient locations to better serve our communities throughout the state.