Lesions on the face are particularly distressing for survivors of torture because they are a frequent reminder of the episode. Most traumatic scars on the face tend to be relatively small, and scars from acne and chickenpox, and tribal markings, must not be mistaken for them.
Lesions are common over bony points, especially the eyebrows and the cheekbones. These may be associated with a fracture of the malar bone (cheekbone). Bruises and scars in the scalp can be difficult to find, especially if the hair is thick. Bruises will normally be tender to touch. Broken or missing teeth are often shown by individuals as evidence of assault, but where the general oral hygiene is poor this usually makes this sign unhelpful. Petechiae of the palate may be evidence of forced oral intercourse. Slaps to the ear can sometimes damage the eardrum. However, the finding of scars of the tympanic membrane (eardrum) does not exclude childhood infections.
Conjunctival hemorrhage, lens dislocation, subhyeloid hemorrhage, retrobulbar hemorrhage, retinal hemorrhage, and visual field loss may all be observed following torture. Referral to an ophthalmologist is recommended whenever there is a suspicion of ocular trauma or disease.
Blunt trauma to the external ear may result in haematoma. Cartilage necrosis and infection are likely sequelae if the ear is left untreated. Lacerations of the pinna vary from those of minor significance to complete amputation. Rupture of the tympanic membrane is a frequent consequence of harsh beatings. Prompt examination is necessary to detect tympanic membrane ruptures less than 2 mm in diameter, as they can heal within 10 days. About 80% of traumatic tympanic membrane perforations diagnosed within 14 days of injury will have healed spontaneously.
The short and long term sequelae of significant injury to the middle and inner ear are hearing loss, vertigo, tinnitus, unsteadiness and, less commonly, facial nerve paralysis. An audiogram should be performed to assess injury to the ossicles and inner ear. A conductive hearing loss is usually due to a tear in the tympanic membrane and blood in the middle ear. A hearing loss of less than 40 dB suggests an ossicular chain dislocation. Sensorineural loss indicates cochlear or retrocochlear damage.
Fluid may be observed in the middle and/or external ear. If otorrhea is confirmed by laboratory analysis to be CSF (cerebrospinal fluid), then MRI or CT should be performed, if possible, to determine the fracture site. The radiographic examination of fractures of the temporal bone or disruption of the ossicular chain is best determined by CT, then hypocycloidal tomography, and lastly linear tomography.
The nose should be evaluated for alignment, crepitation, and deviation of the nasal septum. Initially soft tissue swelling may make interpretation difficult and it may be necessary to re-examine nose after 48 hours when this has subsided. Frequently there is an associated deviation of nasal septum which may result in nasal obstruction. For simple nasal fractures, standard nasal radiographs should be sufficient. Sometimes the fracture of the nasal bone includes the frontal process of the maxilla, and sometimes it extends to include ethmoid labyrinth. For complex nasal fractures and when the cartilaginous septum is displaced, and when rhinorrhea is present, CT and/or MRI are recommended.
Jaw, Oropharynx and Teeth
The oral cavity must be carefully examined. During the application of electric current to the mouth, the tongue, gingiva or lips may be bitten. Lesions might also be produced by forcing objects or materials into the mouth. Temporomandibular joint syndrome can be caused by electric current and blows to the face. It will produce pain in the temporomandibular joint, limitation of jaw movement, and in some cases subluxation of this joint.
A careful dental history should be taken and, if dental records exist, these should be requested. The patient should be referred to a dentist if there is any damage to the teeth. Mandibular fractures, avulsions or fractures of the teeth, broken prostheses, swelling of the gums, bleeding, pain, or loss of fillings from teeth can all result from direct trauma or electric shock torture. Dental caries and gingivitis should also be noted. Poor quality dentition may be due to conditions in detention, or may have preceded it. X-rays and MRI are suggested for determining the extent of soft tissue, mandibular and dental trauma.