Research Article| Volume 58, ISSUE 9, P1091-1096, November 2020

Evidence-based algorithm for the management of acute traumatic retrobulbar haemorrhage

  • B.P. Erickson
    Byers Eye Institute, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

    Stanford University Hospital, Stanford, CA
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  • G.A. Garcia
    Corresponding author at: Byers Eye Institute, Stanford University, 2452 Watson Court Palo Alto, CA, 94303. Tel.: 1+ (650) 723-6995. Fax: 1+ (650) 725-6619.
    Byers Eye Institute, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

    Stanford University Hospital, Stanford, CA
    Search for articles by this author


      Retrobulbar haemorrhage (RBH) is a potentially blinding consequence of craniofacial trauma, but timely ophthalmic evaluation is difficult to obtain in some settings and clear standards for canthotomy/cantholysis are lacking. We have sought to develop an algorithm to identify vision-threatening traumatic RBH that requires emergent decompression. We retrospectively reviewed 42 consecutive consultations for RBH at a level-one trauma centre. Charts and imaging studies were analysed with attention to mechanism of injury, comorbid trauma, and ophthalmic findings. A total of 22 eyes were observed without intervention, 13 were treated pharmacologically, and seven by emergent canthotomy/cantholysis. No differences in standard trauma metrics were found among these groups. Lid oedema, ecchymosis, chemosis, subconjunctival haemorrhage, and ocular motility also failed to correlate with a need for surgical intervention. “Tight” eyelids (p < 0.001), unilateral proptosis (p < 0.001), and relative afferent pupillary defect (RAPD; p = 0.029), however, all related to a need for canthotomy/cantholysis (Fisher’s exact test). Tenting of the globe, which was the only radiographic finding to predict the need for surgery, was seen in just two of the seven cases that required decompression. Many of the traditionally emphasised clinical signs therefore fail to identify cases of RBH that require decompression. Our data support a simple three-factor decision tool. These are: relative proptosis, eyelids that are difficult to open with finger pressure, and presence of an RAPD in the traumatised eye. If all three are noted or if the patient has proptosis and tight lids in the absence of a large preseptal haematoma, he/she is likely to need surgical decompression. Tenting of the globe on computed tomography (CT), while a relatively rare finding, should also alert the physician of the need for intervention.


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