Background: Intralesional injection of corticosteroids is an effective treatment for tumors of the head and neck. Complications are rare but include permanent loss of vision. We designed a study to investigate the mechanism for this complication.
Methods: Three fellowship-trained pediatric ophthalmologists participated in the study in a nonmasked fashion. Four patients received 5 separate treatment sessions of an intralesional injection of a 50-50 mixture of triamcinolone diacetate (40 mg/mL) and betamethasone sodium phosphate and betamethasone acetate (6 mg/mL) into capillary hemangiomas. Injection pressure was obtained in real time using a cannula designed for this purpose. Maximum pressure, mean pressure, and volume of corticosteroid were measured from each injection.
Results: A total of 71 injections (range, 8-33 injections per patient) was performed. The total volume of corticosteroid ranged from 0.9 to 2.1 mL. In 63 of 71 injections, the maximum pressure exceeded 100 mm Hg (range, 18.65-842.18 mm Hg). Each surgeon produced injection pressures greater than the systemic arterial pressures of each patient.
Conclusions: Injection pressures exceeding the systemic arterial pressures routinely occur during intralesional injections of corticosteroids into capillary hemangiomas. Experienced surgeons participating in a nonmasked protocol were unable to prevent high injection pressures of corticosteroid. A sufficient volume of corticosteroid injected at high injection pressure would account for the embolization of corticosteroid particles into the ocular circulation from retrograde arterial flow. We recommend limiting the volume of corticosteroid and performing indirect ophthalmoscopy on all patients receiving injections of long-acting corticosteroids into the orbit and periorbital soft tissue.