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What is pulsed dye laser treatment for vascular anomalies?

The pulsed dye laser is a common treatment for removing many types of vascular malformations, commonly called “birthmarks,” on the skin.

The laser device uses a bright light that is absorbed by abnormal blood vessels. The laser uses heat to destroy these blood vessels without damaging surrounding skin. It does not penetrate into deeper layers of skin like the CO2 laser, another treatment used in our clinic.

Pulsed dye laser is offered as an outpatient procedure, with the option for children to be asleep under general anesthesia. Treatment takes place over multiple sessions; larger lesions may require up to 20 sessions.

Is my child a candidate for pulsed dye laser treatment?

At Boston Children’s, we have no age restrictions for pulsed dye laser treatment. We recommend it for infants, children, and adolescents of all ages based solely on need.

We recommend pulsed dye laser treatment for:

Preparing for pulsed dye laser treatment for vascular anomalies

Patients and their families have a choice to have this treatment performed awake in our clinic or asleep under general anesthesia in the operating room. Our goal is to customize our approach to the needs of the child, depending on his or her age and comfort level.

If the decision is made to undergo the procedure in the OR, an appointment may be needed in our pre-op clinic, which is typically held on the same day. During this visit, you and your child will:

  • Review important details and questions with a pre-op nurse
  • Meet with an anesthesiologist, who will explain how your child is put to sleep for the procedure and review the consent process
  • Undergo any necessary laboratory testing, such as blood work

Precautions before and after pulsed dye laser treatment

There are a few safety steps to be aware of before and after treatment for the best results:

  • Avoid direct exposure to the sun for at least three weeks before treatment. For these patients, completely avoiding suntan is preferable. Suntan absorbs the laser and makes the treatment less effective.
  • Avoid aspirin or aspirin-like products for 14 days before treatment.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater after the procedure because treated skin may be overly sensitive to the sun.

Pulsed dye laser treatment: What to expect the day of the procedure

We recommend arriving at the clinic at least one hour early.

Consent is a necessary step before the procedure may begin:

  • You must be your child’s legal guardian to sign the consent form.
  • If you are a legal guardian and not a parent, you must bring legal paperwork with you showing proof of legal guardianship.
  • Learn more about consenting to tests, treatments, and procedures at Boston Children’s.

Once the consent process is done:

  • Your child will change into a hospital gown.
  • Our team will bring you and your child to the room where the procedure takes place.
  • If your child will be undergoing the procedure with general anesthesia, the anesthesiologist will deliver anesthesia through an IV to help your child relax.

For most patients, pulsed dye laser treatment is an outpatient, or one-day, procedure that does not require a hospital stay. Patients with complex conditions such as Sturge-Weber syndrome may require an overnight stay. Read about preparing for an overnight stay at Boston Children’s.

What happens during pulsed dye laser treatment?

During the procedure, the physician holds a wand against the skin and pulses the laser. The experience feels like a rubber band snapping against the skin. Your child may experience a tingling or burning sensation for up to six hours after treatment.

  • Your child will wear eye protection because the laser light can potentially harm eyes.
  • The physician will test your child’s skin reaction to the laser at the first session.
  • Subsequent sessions may be longer (up to 30 minutes) to treat a larger area.
  • Treatment takes place over multiple sessions, and may require as many as 20 sessions.

Side effects of pulsed dye laser treatment

You may notice some of the following side effects after the procedure:

  • Purple discoloration may appear at the treatment site immediately after the procedure and last for seven to 10 days.
  • Discoloration will fade over the next several weeks.
  • Temporary brown discoloration of the skin may occur in some children for several months.

Pulsed dye laser treatment for vascular anomalies at Boston Children’s

The pulsed dye laser is a treatment for patients we see in our Vascular Anomalies Center, considered the premier center in the world for vascular anomalies.

We are a worldwide referral center for infants and children because we offer:

Customized care: We always start with a conversation with our patients and their families about what they want. We have the ability to perform this procedure in our operating room, allowing young children to be asleep under general anesthesia. Our goal is for families to have all the information needed to make a treatment decision that’s best for them.

Pediatric expertise: Because we specialize in pediatric care, we have a unique understanding of the needs of young children. Unlike other clinics that may perform laser treatment on adults for cosmetic reasons, our entire care team understands vascular anomalies and is trained to work with children.

Comprehensive treatment packages: For our patients with complex vascular syndromes, we can combine pulsed laser treatment with other treatments in the operating room. These patients may undergo plastic surgery or eye procedures in addition to laser treatment all in one day — reducing the number of hospital stays and shortening your child’s recovery time.

Convenient, local treatment: We offer pulsed dye laser treatment at our Lexington location as well as the main hospital in Boston. In many cases, patients and their families can benefit from this outpatient procedure without the hassle of commuting into Boston.

Pulsed Dye Laser | Programs & Services