Intentionally inflicted eye injuries are associated with death and disability in young children

Head injuries are a common cause of death and disability worldwide. In addition to cognitive, neurological, and behavioral deficits, head injuries often co-occur with other kinds of physical damage, such as damage to the face or eyes, often resulting in visual impairment or total blindness. In children and adolescents, injury-related visual impairment is associated with long-term effects on daily functioning and social development. As a result, children who sustain head injuries are particularly vulnerable to sight-related disabilities that may persist for years after the initial trauma.

A team of researchers in New York wanted to know if pediatric eye injuries differ in severity and outcome when trauma is inflicted intentionally, such as shaking a crying child, rather than sustained accidentally. They collected data from 58,765 children who were admitted to the emergency department with traumatic ocular injuries between 2008 and 2014. They found that the majority (76.3%) of these injuries were unintentional, and half were the result of motor vehicle accidents. Intentionally inflicted, assault-related trauma accounted for 16.3% of the total injuries, and the victims were typically white males between the ages of 0 to 3 years or between 19 to 21 years. Assault-related ocular injuries were most likely to be severe and were associated with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. Finally, assault was the most common cause of death in the 0- to 3-year-old age group.

When they occur in childhood, head and eye injuries can significantly disrupt physical, intellectual, and social development. Children younger than three years old are at the highest risk of dying from intentionally inflected head trauma, and those who do survive an assault are likely to experience long-term disabilities and deficits as a result of their injuries. There is a need to educate caregivers about shaken baby syndrome and the significant dangers associated with abuse and assault in young children.

Gise R, Truong T, Parsikia A, & Mbekeani JN. A comparison of pediatric ocular injuries based on intention in patients admitted with trauma. BMC Opthamology. (January 2019).


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