X Rays of the Orbit

X Rays of the Orbit



Orbital x rays are studies of the area and structures containing the eye. The orbit is the circle of thin bones that houses and protects the eye, even extending behind the eye and nearly wrapping around it. The orbit includes the eyebrow, the bridge of the nose and the cheekbone. X rays are a form of radiation (like light) that can penetrate body tissues.


Orbital x ray, or orbital radiography, is often used to detect problems resulting from injury or trauma to the eye. The exam may also detect changes to the structure of the eye, which may indicate various diseases. An ophthalmologist may also order an orbital x ray if there is concern that foreign bodies may be present in the eye that cannot be detected with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope.


Pregnant women and women who could possibly be pregnant should only receive orbital x rays when absolutely necessary. If the patient is in severe pain due to injury or trauma, a painkiller may be given to help ease discomfort during positioning of the head throughout the exam. No other precautions are necessary for orbital x rays.


Each orbit is composed of a floor, a roof, a medial (in the center plane) and lateral (sides of the plane) walls. The orbital x ray involves several different views in order for the physician to clearly see various parts of the eye without obstruction. In orbital x rays, images of the unaffected eye may also be taken to compare its shapes and structures to those of the affected eye. Views may include side view (lateral), back to front (posteroanterior), base view, views from both sides, and an image from the center to one outside edge (half-axial projection). Projections of the optical canal will also be included. For all of these views, the patient may be seated upright or asked to lie on a table in the x ray room.
The orbital x ray procedure should take about 15 minutes to complete. Following the procedure, the patient will usually be asked to wait until the films are developed to ensure they are high enough quality and that repeat x rays are not necessary. A physician may perform the x ray exam in his or her office, or refer the patient to an outpatient radiology facility or hospital radiology department. In the case of emergency, the exam may be performed in the emergency room or a nearby radiology area of the hospital.


There are no special dietary preparations needed prior to an orbital x ray. As with any radiography procedure, the patient should remove any jewelry or metal objects, which may interfere with a clear image.


No aftercare is required following this diagnostic test.


Radiation exposure is low for this procedure and all certified radiology facilities follow strict personnel and equipment guidelines for radiation protection. Women of child bearing age and children should be offered protective shielding (lead aprons) to cover the genital and/or abdominal areas.

Normal results

Normal findings will show the bones of the orbit intact, and will show similarity between the orbit that is being studied and the unaffected orbit.

Abnormal results

Positive findings from an orbital x ray may show that there has been injury to the eye. Certains signs may indicate some disease that is affecting the orbital structures. Tiny fractures in the orbital bones can usually be detected on the radiograph. The floor bone, the medial wall and the ethmoid bone, which is a spongy bone that forms the upper part of the nasal cavity, are the most likely to break. In a blowout fracture (one involving the orbital floor), radiographic findings may include disruption to the orbital floor, an opaque look to the sinuses on the same side as the affected orbit (due to hemorrhage) or signs of sinus problems from the orbital root's interference. These indications can be seen in most typical orbital x ray views.

Key terms

Blowout fracture — A fracture or break in the orbit that is caused by sudden and violent impact to the area.
Malignancy — A malignancy is a tumor that is cancerous and growing.
Medial wall — The middle bone, or wall of the eye's orbit. It is generally thicker than the roof and floor walls.
Ophthalmologist — A physician who specializes in the workings, structures and care of the eyes.
Ophthalmoscope — An instrument routinely used by ophthalmologists to examine the interior of the eye. It consists of a small light, a mirror, and lenses of differing powers that magnify.
Radiography — Examination of any part of the body through the use of x rays. The process produces an image of shadows and contrasts on film.
X ray — A form of electromagnetic radiation with shorter wavelengths than normal light. X rays can penetrate most structures.
Since the physician examines both orbits side by side, indications of differences in size and shape of the various structures in the orbit may be apparent. The orbit may be enlarged, indicating irritation from an injury or foreign body. A number of growing tumors within the eye or brain area may also cause orbital enlargement. Destruction of the walls of the orbit may indicate a nearby infection or malignancy. Changes in density of the tiny orbit bones may also be a sign of bone disease or cancer spread to bone.
Children's orbits are more likely to be enlarged by a fast growing lesion, since their orbital bones have not fully developed.



American Academy of Ophthalmology. 655 Beach Street, P.O. Box 7424, San Francisco, CA 94120-7424. http://www.eyenet.org.
National Eye Institute. 2020 Vision Place, Bethesda, MD 20892-3655. (301) 496-5248. http://www.nei.nih.gov.


Scgeue Eye Institute. University of Pennsylvania Health System. 〈http://www.med.upenn.edu/ophth〉.