Having your eyes dilated can feel like an inconvenience, but there’s a good reason for a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Here we learn more about why this is necessary (and if it’s ever ok to ask your doctor to skip it).

You’re probably familiar with the pupil of your eye, the black center. Its purpose is to let light in and focus it on the bundle of nerve cells at the back of your eye called the retina. Your eyes have muscles located in your iris that control the function of the pupil. If you’re in a dark room, for example, those muscles will effectively pull the pupils open to let in more light so you can see better. The reverse happens if you go from a darker area to a bright one.

But why is dilation an important part of examining your eye?

Dilating your pupils is the very best way for your eye doctor to check for certain eye diseases, especially those that don’t have early warning signs. Because dilation allows more light to enter your eye, that enables your doctor to get a much better look at the retina than if your eyes weren’t dilated.

Your eye doctor will administer dilation drops to widen your pupil, then he or she will be able to check for certain eye diseases including:

  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Retinal detachment
  • Glaucoma

Your eye health is also a good indicator of your overall health. In fact, your eye doctor may be able to notice the effects of certain health conditions (such as diabetes and high blood pressure) as part of your routine dilated eye exam.

What’s with the special dark glasses you get after having your eyes dilated?

Dilation can make your eyes sensitive to light for a few hours after you have your exam, so your doctor will either offer you disposable sunglasses or you might be able to wear your own sunglasses.

Because of your eye’s increased sensitivity to light following dilation, you may experience blurry vision and find it difficult to do routine tasks, such as drive or read. It’s a good idea to arrange to have someone drive you home from your appointment, and avoid spending time in the sun or on screens.

Is it ever ok to ask your doctor not to perform dilation?

It’s important to have a fully dilated exam on a regular basis, but depending on a number of factors, you may not need one every time you visit the eye doctor. Here are a few things your doctor will consider:

First, your age: The risk of eye diseases increases with age, so if you’re older than 40, your eye doctor will likely recommend a dilated eye exam.

Second, your health history: Certain health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, can lead to vision problems, so if you have one of those present, your doctor will probably want to perform a dilated exam.

Your exam history: If you’ve been to this eye doctor previously, don’t have any health problems and don’t have a history of eye issues, then your doctor may determine that it’s ok to go without dilation.

The purpose for your exam: If the reason for your visit is to get an updated glasses or contact lens prescription, and there are no other worries, eye dilation may not be required. On the other hand, if you’re there because you have been experiencing troubles with your vision, your doctor will probably recommend dilation to rule out any serious concerns.

Regular dilated eye exams are an important part of good eye care. If you have concerns about dilation, we’d love to learn about your situation and find out how we can help. Schedule an exam today.

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