Purpose: Shaken baby syndrome consists of intracranial and intraocular hemorrhages in young children in the absence of signs of direct head trauma. Because it has major medicolegal implications, it must be distinguished from accidental trauma. This study aimed to determine the ophthalmologic manifestations and their natural course in child abuse victims and whether ophthalmologic examination can help to distinguish shaken babies from children with accidental impact head trauma.
Design: Prospective comparative observational case series.
Methods: A prospective study was conducted from January 1996 to September 2001 on 241 consecutive infants hospitalized for a subdural hematoma to determine the frequency and the type of ocular abnormalities encountered. At admission, 186 children were highly presumed to have been shaken (group 1), 38 children had signs of direct head trauma without any relevant history of trauma (group 2), some of them having been possibly shaken, whereas 7 children had proven severe accidental head trauma (group 3).
Results: Intraocular hemorrhages were the main finding. Their shape, laterality, and size were not significantly different in groups 1 and 2. However they were significantly more frequent in nonaccidental head trauma than in infants with head impact (77.5% versus 20%). None of the group 3 children had intraocular hemorrhage. Eighty-two percent of intraocular hemorrhages resolved within 4 weeks.
Conclusions: Intraocular hemorrhages are frequent in shaken babies but not specific of this syndrome. When associated with a subdural hematoma, they are strongly suggestive of shaken neglect. They are rare in pediatric accidental head trauma.