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Dilate My Eye Please!

There are many different parts to an eye exam. Dilating the eyes is one of them. Many times people wonder just what this procedure is meant for. It is a normal procedure done during an eye examination, as well as when new eyeglasses or contact lenses are being purchased.

Dilating the eyes is done by using a special eye drop in the patient’s eyes that enlarges the pupils. After they become dilated, the eye doctor will be able to closely examine the structure of each eye. This will include an exam of the optic nerve, the retina, and the blood vessels. The eye drops allow the optometrist to exam these in greater detail than without the drops. This can be a very important part of an eye exam, as it can help determine if there are specific eye problems that need to be taken care of.

Dilating the eyes is important to see the whole eye thoroughly. In a normal exam, the pupils will become smaller when a light is shone into the eye. The drops help the pupils open up wider for better examination, and work in one of two ways. They may stimulate the muscle in the iris that is responsible for opening up the pupil. Or, they stop the action of the muscle of the iris that closes up the pupil. After the dilation takes effect, the optometrist will be able to see the retina and optic nerve much better, which is a highly important step to finding eye problems. It is also done before most major eye surgeries, as well. In some cases, even diabetes and hypertension have been caught early through a dilated eye examination. An eye doctor can detect a body’s disease when looking into the eye. If disease indications are present within the eye the eye doctor will refer the patient to their primary doctor for further examination.

Dilation of the eyes is not the best part of the eye exam for most people. The drops typically cause a person’s vision to become very blurry, and they may also be sensitive to light. After the eye drops are in, the discomfort can last about 3 to 6 hours, however; some patients report discomfort for 24 hours or so. While the drops themselves are painless, having blurry vision for hours afterward can be a nuisance, as well as somewhat dangerous for those who may be driving. If you know you will be having your eyes dilated, you should take some measures to ensure your comfort and safety.

  • If at all possible, do not drive home yourself after the exam. Have a friend or family member drive.
  • Bring a pair of dark glasses with you, so you can block out the light as best as possible when leaving the building.
  • Try to maintain light activity after your dilation. Reading, writing, and delicate hand work will likely be difficult.
Having the eyes dilated is a very important part of an eye examination. While it may not be needed at each yearly exam, it should be scheduled regularly. This is especially true for patients who may have failing vision, so any problems can be found and corrected as soon as possible.

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