PURPOSE: To investigate the histopathology in a large series of autopsy eyes from children with abusive head trauma.
DESIGN: Retrospective case-control series.
METHODS: One hundred and ten eyes from 55 autopsies examined at an academic tertiary referral center over 21 years were tabulated for histopathology: subdural hemorrhage in the optic nerve sheath, intrascleral hemorrhage, any retinal hemorrhage, ora-extended hemorrhage, cherry hemorrhage, perimacular ridge, and internal limiting membrane tear. Select tissues with cherry hemorrhage were further examined by transmission electron microscopy.
RESULTS: Sixty eyes were identified as "abusive head trauma" (cases), 46 as "alternative cause" (controls), and 4 as "abusive head trauma survivor". Cases were legally verified or confirmed by confession in all except 1 case. All ocular histopathologic observations from cases were similar or more frequent in infants younger than 16 months of age. When present, a cherry hemorrhage and perimacular ridge were most often found together, and only with a torn internal limiting membrane. Both abusive head trauma survivor cases demonstrated severe optic nerve atrophy and macular ganglion cell loss.
CONCLUSIONS: Younger infants may be even more susceptible to damage from vitreomacular traction by rotational and/or acceleration-deceleration forces. Identifying cherry hemorrhages may aid abusive head trauma diagnosis. Survivor abusive head trauma pathology demonstrates unique, irreversible macular and optic nerve damage.
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