Retinal hemorrhage variation in inertial versus contact head injuries

Pediatric Brain Injury Research Network (PediBIRN) Investigators

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Abusive head trauma (AHT) is frequently accompanied by dense/extensive retinal hemorrhages to the periphery with or without retinoschisis (complex retinal hemorrhages, cRH). cRH are uncommon without AHT or major trauma. Objective: The study objectives were to determine whether cRH are associated with inertial vs. contact mechanisms and are primary vs. secondary injuries. Participants and setting: This retrospective study utilized a de-identified PediBIRN database of 701 children <3-years-old presenting to intensive care for head trauma. Children with motor vehicle related trauma and preexisting brain abnormalities were excluded. All had imaging showing head injury and a dedicated ophthalmology examination. Methods: Contact injuries included craniofacial soft tissue injuries, skull fractures and epidural hematoma. Inertial injuries included acute impairment or loss of consciousness and/or bilateral and/or interhemispheric subdural hemorrhage. Abuse was defined in two ways, by 1) predetermined criteria and 2) caretaking physicians/multidisciplinary team's diagnostic consensus. Results: PediBIRN subjects with cRH frequently experienced inertial injury (99.4 % (308/310, OR = 53.74 (16.91–170.77)) but infrequently isolated contact trauma (0.6 % (2/310), OR = 0.02 (0.0004–0.06)). Inertial injuries predominated over contact trauma among children with cRH sorted AHT by predetermined criteria (99.1 % (237/239), OR = 20.20 (6.09—67.01) vs 0.5 % (2/339), OR = 0.04 (0.01–0.17)). Fifty-nine percent of patients with cRH, <24 h altered consciousness, and inertial injuries lacked imaging evidence of brain hypoxia, ischemia, or swelling. Conclusions: cRH are significantly associated with inertial angular acceleration forces. They can occur without brain hypoxia, ischemia or swelling suggesting they are not secondary injuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106606
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Abusive head trauma
  • Child physical abuse
  • Retinal hemorrhages
  • Retinoschisis
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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