Orbital Compartment Syndrome

Sure, you’ve heard about all the other compartment syndromes: leg, thigh, forearm, buttock, and abdomen to name a few. But how about a compartment syndrome of the orbit?

This isn’t your usual muscular compartment problem, although the basic concept is the same. The eye is surrounded by rigid bones or relatively stiff soft tissue (the eyelid, believe it or not). Any extra tissue or blood added to this compartment dramatically raises the pressure in the area, which is readily conducted to the eye itself. This rapidly results in:

  • Severe eye pain
  • Decreased extraocular movements, which may result in diplopia
  • Proptosis
  • Decreased visual acuity
  • Increased intra-ocular pressure (>40 torr)
  • Slow pupillary response

This syndrome should be confirmed rapidly and is one of the few true ophthalmologic emergencies. A lateral canthotomy and cantholysis should be carried out to make the lower lid freely mobile, decompressing the compartment (see diagram). This procedure is not for the faint of heart, but should be familiar in any ED where an ophthalmologist is not readily available. Urgent followup with an eye specialist is mandatory.

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