Ocular and cerebral trauma in non-accidental injury in infancy: underlying mechanisms and implications for paediatric practice.
AIMS: To determine the sites, mechanisms, and clinical significance of injuries to the eyes and brains of children with non-accidental injuries in relation to differing levels of trauma. METHODS: A forensic pathological study of injuries in the eyes and brains of 23 consecutive children dying of non-accidental injuries over a 4 year period (1988-92) under the jurisdiction of Yorkshire and Humberside coroners. RESULTS: Sixteen children died from cerebral injuries and seven died from non-cerebral causes. There were high incidences of retinal detachment (63%) and subhyaloid (75%), intraretinal (75%), and perineural (68%) haemorrhages in CNS deaths. Local subhyaloid haemorrhages and retinal detachment were more common at the periphery and optic disc than at the equator. There was a strong correlation between CNS and eye trauma scores in all 23 children (r = 0.7551, p < 0.0001). Ranking of injuries by severity suggests progressively more trauma required for (a) subdural haemorrhage, (b) subhyaloid, intraretinal, perineural haemorrhages, and (c) retinal detachment. At highest trauma levels choroidal and vitreous haemorrhages were associated with additional cerebral lacerations, intracerebral and subarachnoid haemorrhages. CONCLUSIONS: In non-accidental (and probably accidental) infantile head injury the earliest eye injuries (coinciding with subdural haemorrhage) could be missed if indirect ophthalmoscopy is not performed. Retinal detachment and multiple (particularly choroidal/vitreous) haemorrhages may indicate additional cerebral lacerations and/or intracerebral haemorrhage. Vitreous traction is the likely cause of intraocular pathology.