To determine the prevalence of retinal hemorrhages in apparent life-threatening events (ALTEs) with the purpose of facilitating the differential diagnosis of the cases of nonaccidental head trauma.
Prospective study on children aged 15 days to 2 years admitted to our hospital with a diagnosis of an ALTE over a period of 2 years (May 2004-May 2006). All the children underwent detailed ophthalmologic examination within 72 hours of admission. If retinal hemorrhages were detected, further investigation was undertaken to rule out systemic disorder or maltreatment.
One hundred eight children with an ALTE were examined. No patient was found to have retinal hemorrhages nor was any found to have experienced child abuse. Therefore, using the Hanley rule of 3, we can be confident to an upper limit of 95% that the chance of retinal hemorrhages occurring as a result of an ALTE alone is at the most 0.028.
Apparent life-threatening events alone are unlikely to cause retinal hemorrhages in children younger than 2 years. Therefore, if retinal hemorrhages are detected, investigation into the possibility of nonaccidental injury is essential.