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Why Do You Get Your Eyes Dilated During an Eye Exam

All adults are strongly advised to get a yearly eye exam. You may wonder if the doctor will dilate your pupils during this visit. The answer is - it depends. However, there’s a good chance you will need to have your eyes dilated for your eye doctor to properly examine your eyes. Here’s a little more about this process. 


Why is it done? 


Whether or not you’ll need eye dilation during your next exam depends on the reason for your exam, your age, your overall health, and your risk of eye diseases. More often than not, eye doctors prefer to dilate your pupils so that they can fully evaluate your macula, retina and optic nerve. These are parts of the eye that directly influence ocular health and can be compromised in various eye conditions. While they can often be viewed through an undilated pupil, a full and complete evaluation should be done through a dilated pupil.


Furthermore, signs of many diseases can be detected by a fully dilated examination of the retina. Common eye diseases that may be identified and treated include diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and glaucoma. Additionally, common systemic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol can be recognized and referred to the appropriate specialist. 


What should I expect?


If you’ve never had your pupils dilated, it might sound a little uncomfortable. However, the process is usually pretty smooth and pain-free. If you’re going to have your eyes dilated, especially for the first time, you may want to ask someone to drive you to (and from) your appointment. Your eyes will be very sensitive to light afterward and some mild blurring might be noted. You will be given sunglasses after your appointment to help manage your light sensitivity. 


During the exam, the doctor or trained technician will put eye drops into your eyes. Then you’ll wait. It typically takes between 15 and 30 minutes for the pupils to fully dilate. Once dilated, the eye doctor will examine your eye, using a lighted microscope. You may experience a slight stinging sensation when the drops are put in, or sensitivity afterward, but most patients report minimal discomfort. The dilation should wear off fully within four to six hours after the drops are administered, and you should avoid bright sunlight (and wear sunglasses, even inside) until your eyes are back to normal. The effects of the drops will wear off completely with no lasting effects. 

The bottom line with dilation is to trust the recommendation of your doctor. If they advise you to include the dilation of your eyes in your annual exam, it’s a good idea to do so. Even though it may feel a bit strange, the benefits are many. Please contact us to schedule an eye exam.