Background: Many authorities believe that the finding of retinal hemorrhages in a child younger than 3 years of age with a history of head trauma, in the absence of an obvious cause for the injury, is pathognomonic of child abuse. To date, no studies have examined the prospective retinal examination of children who have had head trauma. The authors undertook such a study because the presence of retinal hemorrhage from any head trauma in children may have medicolegal diagnostic significance in differentiating accidental from nonaccidental trauma.
Methods: Seventy-nine children younger than 3 years of age, each of whom experienced head injury, underwent an ophthalmologic assessment, which included a dilated funduscopic examination.
Results: Seventy-five children sustained accidental head injuries and had normal funduscopic examinations. Three children had nonaccidental head injuries and all were found to have varying degrees of retinal hemorrhages. One child, with a normal fundus examination, had injuries that were of indeterminate cause.
Conclusion: The finding of retinal hemorrhages in a child with a head injury suggests a nonaccidental cause.