Pneumomediastinum seen on chest x-ray after blunt trauma always attracts attention. Possible sources may be related to very serious injuries to the aerodigestive tract. When seen in children, it causes considerable anxiety, which usually results in a very detailed workup and lots of imaging.
Children’s Hospital of Boston looked at the National Trauma Data Bank, as well as 19 years worth of their own records to see whether all the attention is justified. They found 193 patients in the NTDB that met their criteria, and most were in their late teens and had other significant injuries. Of the 17 with isolated pneumomediastinum, none had any other significant injury.
When reviewing their own patient records, they found 18 with pneumomediastinum, and all but one was seen on plain chest x-ray. Most were transferred to the hospital from referring centers, and had been involved in sports-related mechanisms. Half had undergone studies in addition to a chest x-ray before transfer. All were discharged home without any surgical interventions.
Bottom line: Pneumomediastinum is rare in children, even older ones. If associated with significant aerodigestive injuries, it was never an isolated occurrence. Other signs or symptoms were present. Pediatric patients presenting with an isolated pneumomediastinum can be safely observed, using chest x-ray and physical examination alone. More sophisticated studies (CT, barium studies) are not indicated.
Reference: Clinical outcomes and diagnostic imaging of pediatric patients with pneumomediastinum secondary to blunt trauma to the chest. J Trauma, epub, 2011.
We always worry about the aorta after high-energy blunt trauma in adults. Should we be doing the same in kids? After all, they are very elastic and for the most part they are tough to break.
A 13 year review was undertaken by the CV surgeons at Harborview twenty years ago which tried to answer this question. They looked at medical examiner records of all pediatric deaths (16 or younger) and identified the ones with traumatic aortic injury. They found only 12 deaths (2.1%), and somehow they also tracked one survivor (from ME data???). The age range was 3-15, with a mean of 12 (which means that the majority were in the older age group).
Six children were pedestrian struck, 5 were involved in car crashes, and two were on motorized bikes or ATVs. None of the children in car crashes were restrained and two were ejected. Four of the five were traveling > 55mph. All had other serious injuries, including abdominal and orthopedic.
It’s tough to draw any meaningful conclusions from this paper due to the small numbers, the retrospective design, and the lack of a denominator. The only thing it does tell us is that aortic injury is bad, and that kids should not get hit by cars and should wear their seat belts. The mean age suggests that it involves primarily older children. But we kind of knew all that already.
What it does not help with is figuring out at what age we need to start thinking about imaging the aorta with CT scan. I’ll be digging into that a little more this week.
Reference: Eddy et al. The epidemiology of traumatic rupture of the aorta in children: a 13 year review. J Trauma 30(8): 989-992, 1990.
I have constructed this map from available resources from the American College of Surgeons and numerous state agencies. ACS verified pediatric centers have a diamond in their icon; Level I is red and Level II is yellow. Non-ACS centers are pink (Level I) or blue (Level II). The Level I pediatric center at Regions Hospital is the green star.
I have made every attempt at accuracy, but things do change. If I have omitted any centers or misclassified them, please leave a comment or email me!
Trauma professionals routinely worry about the thoracic aorta when evaluating adults after major blunt trauma. The question is, how much do we have to worry about blunt thoracic aortic injury in children?
Younger children are more elastic, and their organs tend to withstand more punishment than adults. After reviewing the literature, I’ve come to the conclusion that this injury is very rare in children in the single digit age range. It’s difficult to find a good paper that addresses this question. The majority include kids up to age 16 or 18, which really skews the results. These patients are most commonly involved in motor vehicle crashes, although a significant number are also pedestrians struck by cars.
The National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) was queried for all children <18 years old sustaining blunt injury with at least 1 diagnosis code. There were nearly 27,000 records matching these criteria. Of these, only 34 had an injury to the thoracic aorta. And in the age range under 10, there were only 2! Both of these children were in very high energy car crashes.
The bottom line: Injury to the thoracic aorta practically never happens in children in the single digit age range. As they get closer to adolescence, they behave more like adults and become more susceptible. The diagnosis should be only be entertained in small children who are involved in very high-energy car crashes. Falls from the usual heights (2-3 stories) are probably not significant enough to cause it. A chest xray may show a full mediastinum, but this will most likely be due to a normal thymus. If investigation is warranted, the standard is to obtain a helical CT of the chest. This study would most likely be obtained anyway to evaluate the torso in a high-energy mechanism. Aortorgraphy is no longer used.
Reference: Trooskin, et al. Risk factors for blunt thoracic injury in children. J Pediatric Surg 40(1):98, 2005.
ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) are motor vehicles that are designed for use on uneven surfaces. Full-size ATVs can weigh up to 600 pounds and reach speeds of 75mph. There are up to 7 million ATVs currently being used in this country.
Unfortunately, young riders make up a disproportionate number of injuries and fatalities. About a third of all ATV-related deaths and ED visits involve riders under the age of 16. The risk factors for ATV injuries are well known:
Male (seems to go along with the previous one)
Driving on public roads
Riding with a passenger
The University of Connecticut published a recent study in which they surveyed youths at four major agricultural fairs covering the 4 major geographic areas of the state. The average age that the kids began riding was 9 years. The majority rode for fun, but more than a third admitted to racing informally with friends. 70% engaged in double-riding, 59% rode alone without family present, and 46% rode after dark. Most kids were trained on ATVs by family or friends, although 25% were self-taught. The majority wore appropriate clothing and 80% wore a helmet.
Nearly half of these kids admitted to being involved in at least one ATV crash. The most frequent type of crash was a rollover, followed by collision with a stationary object. 10% were pinned under the ATV. Commonly reported causes of the crash were poor driving conditions, lack of experience, and lack of strength to control the ATV. Those who reported crashing were also more likely to engage in risky ATV behavior like racing, riding after dark, riding without supervision, or riding a large ATV.
This study points to the need for additional education and training for both children who want to ride an ATV and their parents. The only way to reduce the number of children injured or killed by these vehicles is to make sure both groups understand the need for safe riding practices.
Reference: Campbell et al, J Pediatric Surg 45:925-929, 2010.
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