Fatal systemic (paradoxical) air embolism diagnosed by postmortem funduscopy.
Air embolism is often unrecognized and underreported. Published case reports or case series describe only rare fundal examinations of retinal air emboli (RAE)-a distinctive sign of systemic air embolism. We report an infant, found unresponsive at home, who died in the emergency department after unsuccessful resuscitative efforts. Before the autopsy, diagnostic RAE were recognized and imaged during postmortem funduscopy. Postmortem radiography and an autopsy confirmed systemic (paradoxical) air embolism due to inflicted abdominal and thoracic blunt force injuries. While a few descriptions and illustrations of RAE occur in case reports, we found no published photographic images of RAE in infants, children, or adults. This case report describes and photographically documents classic RAE associated with fatal systemic (paradoxical) air embolism. Complementing postmortem radiography and judicious autopsy techniques, the detection of RAE can aid pathologists in diagnosing systemic air embolism.
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