Dilation is part of a thorough eye exam.
The view to the back of the eye is limited when the pupil is not dilated. When your pupil is small, an eye doctor can see your optic nerve and macula but the view is limited. In order to see the entire retina, the pupil must be dilated. This is achieved through the use of eye drops
During a dilated exam, your doctor can spot problems like a torn or detached retina or an eye tumor. They can also diagnose and monitor common eye diseases that can take away your sight:
- check for myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Age-related macular degeneration
- peripherical retinal lesions
- retinal detachment
- eye tumors
How Long Does It Last?
Everyone’s eyes react differently to the dilation drops. It usually takes 15 to 30 minutes for your pupils to open completely. Most people are back to normal within about 4 to 6 hours. But for you, the effects could wear off more quickly, or they could last much longer.
Can I Drive?
Dilation doesn’t typically affect your distance vision But because your pupils can’t control the amount of light going into your eyes, the glare outside may bother you. For some people, that makes it unsafe to drive. If you’ve never had your eyes dilated, get someone else to drive you home from your appointment. Once you’ve had it done, you’ll know whether dilation means you can’t drive after an exam. Whether or not you get behind the wheel, it’s a good idea to bring sunglasses with you so you can shield your eyes after the exam.
Can I Go Back To Work?
Dilating drops make it hard for your eyes to focus on things close to you. You probably won’t be able to read, use the computer, or do other tasks that require near vision after your appointment, unless you wear bifocals or use reading glasses. If you work outside, the bright light may bother you. It may be easier to make an appointment later in the day so you don’t have to go back to work.
How Often Do I Need It?
The National Eye Institute recommends everyone over 60 have a dilated exam once a year. If you’re African-American, you’re at higher risk for glaucoma, so the yearly recommendation starts at age 40. If you have diabete you should also have a dilated exam once a year no matter how old you are.
Dilation is often a normal part of an eye exam or people who wear glasses or contacts. But if you’re young and your eyes are healthy, you may not need it every time. Your doctor also may be able to use other methods to check your retina without dilating your eyes, but they may not work as well. See what your doctor recommends.
Many eye diseases are more common as you get older. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says everyone should get a baseline exam with dilation when they’re 40. That way, your doctor can track any changes that could signal a problem.
- Children should receive their first comprehensive eye examination before the age of 3, unless a specific condition or history of family childhood vision problems warrants an earlier examination.
- Anyone with a history of visual problems should get routine preventive care.
- People ages 20 to 30 should have an eye exam every two years, unless visual changes, pain, flashes of light, new floaters, injury, or tearing occurs. Then, immediate care is necessary.
- Yearly exams become important in the late thirties, when changes in vision and focus along with eye diseases, are more likely to develop.
Factors Your Eye Doctor Considers When Determining Whether Eye Dilation Is Necessary:
- Age. The risk of eye diseases increases with age—particularly over age 40.
- Eye health. If you’ve experienced eye diseases that affect the back of the eye, such as retinal detachment, you may have an increased risk of future eye problems.
- Overall health. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, increase the risk of eye disease.
- Reason for the exam. Are you in good health, under 40 and wondering if you need vision correction? You may not need a dilated exam this time, but know that you should have one at least every few years and more frequently as you get older. If it’s your very first eye exam, it’s a good idea to go with dilation for a baseline exam. You can discuss this with your doctor.
- If you have new, worrisome eye symptoms or vision problems, then eye dilation may be necessary to make a diagnosis.
- Results of previous exams: If recent eye exams have included eye dilation with no unusual findings, it may be possible to skip the eye-dilation portion of your next exam.