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During an eye exam, your eye doctor will dilate your eyes. Patients often wonder why it’s necessary to have their eyes dilated. Dilation is actually an important part of a comprehensive eye exam.

WHAT IS EYE DILATION?

The pupil in your eye changes size depending on the amount of light coming in, and a constricted pupil can make it difficult for an ophthalmologist to see into your eye. If the pupil closes up, your eye doctor may be unable to complete the examination. In most cases, drops are placed in your eye to keep the pupil open and dilated.

Dilation drops are generally painless and temporary, and help ensure that the pupil remains open so your ophthalmologist can exam your eye. There are certain eye diseases and conditions that can only be detected with dilated pupils, and this step of the examination can facilitate early detection.

The procedure for dilating the eyes is very simple. The ophthalmologist will ask you to tip back your head, and your eye will be gently held open while the drops are applied. After the drops are put into your eyes, you will need to wait about 20 or 30 minutes until your eyes are fully dilated and you are ready for the exam.

SIDE EFFECTS OF EYE DILATION

There are several small, inconvenient side effects that can occur when you have your eyes dilated, but symptoms will go away within a short period of time. Enlarged pupils may cause you to experience light sensitivity, so it is important that you wear sunglasses when you go outside or if you are around bright lights. You may also experience blurry vision for a few hours.

Once the medication from the dilation drops wear off, your eyesight will go back to normal.

EYE CONDITIONS DETECTED WITH EYE DILATION

Here are eye conditions that can be detected when an ophthalmologist dilates your eyes:

Diabetes Brain tumors Eye tumors High blood pressure Vasculitis Retinal detachment
The initial signs of these eye conditions can only be detected if your eyes are dilated for the examination.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU NEED YOUR EYES DILATED?

The frequency of eye dilation depends on your age and overall health. Generally, younger people may not need to have their eyes dilated very often, so dilation is used every two years during a standard eye examination. However, people who are older or who deal with eye disease may require eye dilation at least once per year. Talk to your ophthalmologist to determine the right frequency of dilation for eye exams.

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