Orbital Emphysema: A Case Report and Comprehensive Review of the Literature


Roelofs KA, Starks V, Yoon MK. Orbital Emphysema: A Case Report and Comprehensive Review of the Literature. Ophthalmic Plast Reconstr Surg 2019;35(1):1-6.

Date Published:

2019 Jan/Feb


PURPOSE: The objective of this study was to report a case of persistent and likely self-induced orbital emphysema (OE) following functional endoscopic sinus surgery with dislodgement of a previously placed orbital floor implant and to review the literature surrounding etiologies, pathophysiology, and management of OE. METHODS: Case report and review of the literature. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: While blunt trauma resulting in disruption of the medial orbital wall is the most common cause of OE, there are an additional 25 underlying etiologies reported in the current literature. Pathophysiology of OE is somewhat dependent on underlying etiology but often involves a 1-way ball valve mechanism such that air may enter the orbit but not exit. When sufficient air enters the orbit, complications secondary to increased intraorbital pressure, including central retinal artery occlusion and compressive optic neuropathy, can occur. Mild cases of OE are typically observed, with most resolving within 7 to 10 days. Moderate cases are often managed by lateral canthotomy and cantholysis with possible needle decompression. Severe cases may require urgent surgical decompression. While the majority of cases of OE are benign and self-limited, there have been 4 reports in the literature documenting significant vision loss. CONCLUSIONS: Although there is often a history of trauma in patients presenting with OE, many other underlying etiologies have been reported with several cases occurring spontaneously. As such, OE should be included on the differential for a patient presenting with a sudden onset of orbital signs.

Last updated on 02/01/2019