Eye or pupil dilation is a standard part of a medical or comprehensive eye exam. If you’ve only ever been to the optometrist to have your vision prescription renewed, you may have never had your pupils dilated. However, whether it was someone you knew or a character on a television show, you’ve probably seen someone wearing sunglasses indoors after they’ve had a comprehensive eye exam. What does dilation mean and how does it work?
“Dilation” occurs when your pupils get larger. Your eyes naturally dilate in darkness and constrict in brightness, allowing you to see well whether you’re in a light or dark environment. During an eye exam, your optometrist or ophthalmologist can use eye drops to keep your pupils dilated regardless of how much light is in the room. This lets them see the back of your eye more clearly, which in turn allows them to diagnose various vision conditions, eye diseases, and even some health issues that may seem unrelated to your eye health. This technique often lets your doctor catch conditions at their earliest stages, enabling you to treat them more easily and effectively. Your eye doctor will dilate your eyes as part of any comprehensive eye exam, or if they think it’s necessary to examine you for certain conditions:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – Your doctor can more easily see the yellow deposits called drusen that signal this condition when your pupils are dilated. AMD is one of the most common causes of vision loss.
- Retinal detachment – A detached retina is more easily detectable in a dilated eye.
- Glaucoma – Glaucoma has a visible impact on the optic nerve, and a qualified optometrist or ophthalmologist is better able to determine whether your optic nerve is healthy when your eyes are dilated.
- Diabetic complications – A dilated eye exam can reveal signs of diabetic retinopathy, such as swelling, leaking, and abnormal growth of the retina’s blood vessels.
- High blood pressure – The tiny blood vessels in your eyes require a lot of oxygen, so they’re easily damaged by high blood pressure. Subtle changes in your eyes can be the earliest indicators of this all-too-common health condition, and they’re easier to spot when your eyes are dilated.
How often should you have an eye exam that includes dilation? The answer depends on several factors, including your age, ethnic background, personal medical history, current health status, family medical history, and the reason for your eye exam. To learn more, contact our office or check out our recent blog “How Often Should You Have Your Eyes Checked?”
Before having a dilated eye exam, you’ll need to make sure you don’t have to work, drive, or do anything else important or potentially dangerous for the rest of the day. This is because eye dilation increases your sensitivity to light and makes your vision blurry for a few hours. You might experience some minor discomfort, but for most people, pupil dilation only causes temporary, minimal inconvenience. It’s well worth the hassle when it lets your doctor get a more thorough view of your eye’s health.
If you’re interested in getting a routine or comprehensive eye exam, or any of the many other services and products we offer, contact Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons to schedule an appointment today. Be sure to follow Dr. Segal and Dr. Lay on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget to come back soon for more helpful eyecare information.