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Ophthalmology. 1994 Mar;101(3):559-65.

Ocular and optic nerve hemorrhages in abused infants with intracranial injuries.

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William C. Frayer Laboratory of Eye Pathology, Scheie Eye Institute, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104.



To ascertain whether the pathology of the eye and optic nerve might be useful in determining the manner of death in infants who died after sustaining apparent nonaccidental intracranial injury.


Complete autopsies were performed on 13 infants who died of acute intracranial injuries after nonaccidental trauma. The infants were divided into two groups: nine with physical evidence of blunt trauma to the head, and four without detectable scalp or skull injury whose intracranial injuries were attributed to violent shaking (shaken baby syndrome). Six infants with no intracranial injuries who died suddenly from unidentifiable causes (the so-called sudden infant death syndrome) served as controls.


Optic nerve sheath hemorrhage, most prominent in the subdural space, was present in all 13 infants with nonaccidental intracranial injury. Multilayered retinal hemorrhage was present in at least one eye of 11 of these 13 infants. The location and quantity of the intraocular and optic nerve sheath hemorrhages did not differ in those with external head trauma and those without scalp or skull lesions. A single control infant had a few erythrocytes in the nerve fiber layer of the anterior optic nerve of one eye. The remainder of the control infants did not have evidence of hemorrhage in the eye or optic nerve sheath.


Histopathologic analysis of optic nerve sheath and intraocular hemorrhages may be helpful in distinguishing traumatic from non-traumatic causes of death in infants.

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