Ocular Ultrasound

Brief HPI:

Intraocular foreign body

Intraocular foreign body

A middle-aged male with no past medical history presents with blurred vision. He reported that he was hammering while at work approximately 3 days prior to presentation and felt something enter his left eye. He denies eye pain, has noted some eye redness and increased tearing. Denies prior eye surgery or procedures. Physical examination demonstrates normal visual acuity, minimal left nasal conjunctival injection sparing the limbus, and an irregular left pupil that is minimally reactive. A no-pressure ocular ultrasound was performed and demonstrated a hyperechoic structure in the globe suggestive of foreign body which was confirmed on computed tomography of the orbit. The patient was taken to the operating room for removal.



CT Orbit without contrast

Punctate density within the left globe compatible with foreign body.

Algorithm for the Evaluation of Visual Complaints with Ocular Ultrasonography

Algorithm for the Evaluation of Visual Complaints with Ocular Ultrasonography


The POCUS Atlas
The ultrasound images and videos used in this post come from The POCUS Atlas, a collaborative collection focusing on rare, exotic and perfectly captured ultrasound images.
The POCUS Atlas

Orbital Abscess

Lens dislocation

Retinal detachment

Vitreous hemorrhage

Posterior vitreous detachment

ONSD (increased)

Central retinal artery flow (normal)

Central retinal artery occlusion


Useful for the evaluation of intraocular processes:

  • Retinal detachment
  • Vitreous hemorrhage/detachment
  • Intraocular foreign body
  • Lens dislocation
  • Retroorbital hemorrhage/abscess
  • Retinal vascular processes (CRAO)

Augmentation of physical examination when limited due to facial swelling or trauma:

  • Pupil size and reactivity
  • Extraocular movements


  • Normal <5mm adults (>15yo)
  • Normal <4.5mm children (1-15yo)
  • Normal <4mm infants (<1yo)
  • By convention, measurements of the optic nerve sheath diameter are made 3-mm posterior to the globe


  • Apply Tegaderm, ensuring no air bubbles trapped
  • Apply copious ultrasound gel
  • Use no-pressure technique, anchoring hand against the patient’s forehead, nasal bridge or maxilla
  • Probe indicator to the patient’s right for transverse views
  • Probe indicator to the patient’s head for longitudinal views
  • Start with medium gain then increase to identify subtle findings

Test Characteristics

Prospective observational study evaluating patients presenting with ocular trauma or acute vision complaints underwent ocular ultrasound. Ultrasound findings agreed with the confirmatory test: ophthalmology consultation or advanced imaging (usually computed tomography) in 60 of 61 cases3.

Specific Findings 4,5

Retinal Detachment6-9

Appears as a highly reflective membrane floating in the substance of the vitreous body, moves within vitreous body with eye movement. Remains anchored at the optic nerve and ora serrata.

Posterior Vitreous Detachment10

Both retinal detachments and posterior vitreous detachments show a linear hyperechoic line in the posterior chamber. However, posterior vitreous detachments are not tethered to the optic nerve and will appear to cross midline.

Vitreous Hemorrhage

Seen more easily with high-gain, enhanced by eye movements which demonstrate hyperechoic particles swirling around in the vitreous body.

Retrobulbar Hematoma

Identified by the presence of a hypoechoic structure posterior to the globe. Should prompt a measurement of intra-ocular pressure if simultaneous globe rupture is not suspected.

Lens Dislocation

Usually secondary to blunt trauma, lens displaced from normal position and appears as an echogenic ovoid structure floating freely in the vitreous or over the retina.

Globe Rupture

If the diagnosis of globe rupture is obvious, ultrasound should be avoided. However, the “no-pressure” technique described above likely does not significantly impact intra-ocular pressure and should be safe11,12. Globe rupture can be identified by scleral buckling, anterior chamber collapse, or globe collapse/irregularities.

Optic Nerve Evaluation13-18

Though not a direct assessment of ocular pathology, evaluation of the optic nerve sheath diameter (ONSD) serves as a reliable surrogate for elevated intracranial pressure – emulating fundoscopy for papilledema. See normal measurements and image acquisition above.

Intraocular Foreign Body

The preferred imaging modality for evaluation of intraocular foreign body is orbital computed tomography. Ultrasonographically, foreign bodies are typically hyperechoic.

Central Retinal Artery Occlusion19,20

A more advanced technique, the addition of color Doppler over the central retinal artery may reveal decreased systolic amplitude and diastolic flow in embolic or thrombotic occlusion.

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  2. Knoop KJ, Dennis WR. Ophthalmologic, Otolaryngologic, and Dental Procedures. Seventh Edition. Elsevier Inc.; 2019:1295–1337.e2. doi:10.1016/B978-0-323-35478-3.00062-2.
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