Do I Really Need Eye Dilation During My Annual Exam?

Do you have an annual eye exam coming up?

If so, you might already be worried about whether or not you’re going to need to have your eyes dilated during it. There are some people who don’t enjoy eye dilation and wish there was a way they could get out of it.

There are also some people who try to talk their ophthalmologist or optometrist out of doing dilation during their annual eye exam. They feel as though they can have a successful eye exam without having their eyes dilated during it.

Technically, you can undergo an eye exam without worrying about eye dilation in certain situations. But it’s not going to be a very thorough eye exam, and your ophthalmologist or optometrist could miss potential problems with your eyes.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes eye dilation so important and see if it’s always necessary.

What Is Eye Dilation?

Eye dilation is a common procedure that’s performed on a regular basis by an ophthalmologist or optometrist conducting an eye exam.

During dilation, an ophthalmologist or optometrist will place dilating eye drops into a patient’s eyes in order to make their pupils dilate. When this happens, the patient’s pupils will widen and open up all the way.

Everyone’s eyes react a little bit differently to dilating eye drops. If your eyes are green, blue, or hazel, they will likely dilate quicker than someone with darker colored eyes.

But in general, your eyes will begin to dilate roughly 15 to 30 minutes after dilating eye drops are placed into your eyes. Your ophthalmologist or optometrist will wait for your eyes to dilate fully before beginning your eye exam.

How Will Dilation Affect Your Eyes?

After your pupils are dilated during an eye exam with your eye doctor, you will likely experience a series of symptoms that will make it slightly uncomfortable to use your eyes. These symptoms are the reason some people try to get out of having eye dilation done.

When your eyes are dilated, you will:

  • Experience blurry vision
  • Struggle to focus on objects that are situated close to you
  • Become very sensitive to any bright lights
  • See a glare when you’re looking at certain objects

Most people who need to have their eyes dilated during an eye exam will bring a pair of sunglasses along to avoid allowing too much light to enter their eyes after it’s over. They’ll also usually ask someone to drive them to and from their exam since it can be tough to drive when your eyes are dilated.

The side effects of having your eyes dilated will typically last anywhere from about two to six hours, though it could be longer or shorter than that based on the way your eyes react to the dilating eye drops that are used.

How Will Dilation Help Your Ophthalmologist During Your Annual Eye Exam?

So, why do so many people go through the trouble of having their eyes dilated during an annual eye exam with their ophthalmologist or optometrist?

Well, it’s actually pretty easy to understand. The truth is that, if you don’t have your eyes dilated, your eye doctor won’t be able to provide you with a full inspection of your eyes. There is a good chance they could miss an obvious eye condition without eye dilation.

When your eyes are dilated, more light will enter your eye, which will allow your ophthalmologist to examine more of your retina as well as the optic nerve located at the back of your eye.

When your eyes aren’t dilated, less light will enter your eye, which will result in your ophthalmologist only being able to see a small sliver of your retina and almost none of your optic nerve.

As you might imagine, a lack of eye dilation can make it tough for your ophthalmologist or optometrist to provide you with a comprehensive report on the health of your eyes. When you don’t have dilation done, it can make it almost impossible for the ophthalmologist to catch certain issues that might be going on.

Which Conditions Can Your Ophthalmologist Diagnose When Your Eyes Are Dilated?

It’s important to have an annual eye exam done in the first place because it will allow your ophthalmologist or optometrist to diagnose you with certain conditions if you have them. If you’re able to catch conditions early enough, you can deal with them accordingly before they spiral out of control and cause more serious problems.

Here are just a few of the conditions that your eye doctor can detect during an eye exam:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Cataract
  • Retinal detachment
  • Glaucoma
  • Eye tumors
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • And more

It’s worth noting that it is possible for your ophthalmologist or optometrist to spot signs of some of the conditions even if you opt not to have eye dilation done. But there are other signs that could go undetected if your eyes aren’t dilated during your eye exam.

It’s why you should strongly consider having dilation done any time you have an annual eye exam. You should also strongly consider having your eyes dilated if you fall into a few select categories.

Keep reading to find out about some of the people who should just about always have dilation done during annual eye exams, no matter what.

Why You Should Have Eye Dilation Done If You’re over 60

Once you start getting older, you’re automatically at an increased chance of dealing with lots of different eye conditions. Catching those eye conditions as early as you can and treating them is the only way to prevent them from doing serious damage to your eyes.

The risk of dealing with many eye conditions increases dramatically once you hit the age of 40. From there on out, your risk level will increase more and more and force you to take your annual eye exams more seriously than ever before.

By the time you’re 60, you should just about always having eye dilation done during an eye exam. The National Eye Institute recommends that everyone over the age of 60 should have at least one dilated eye exam every year.

Even if having your eyes dilated is a little bit unpleasant, it’ll be well worth it in the end if it allows your ophthalmologist or optometrist to successfully diagnose you with an eye condition.

Why You Should Also Have Dilation Done If You’re a Certain Ethnicity

People of certain ethnic backgrounds have higher chances of dealing with certain eye diseases than people of other ethnicities.

For example, if you’re African-American or Hispanic, you have a greater risk of being diagnosed with glaucoma than other people. You should, therefore, schedule dilated eye exams at least once every one to two years by the time you hit the age of 40.

If you choose not to take part in dilated eye exams, it could prove to be catastrophic for you. Glaucoma has actually become the leading cause of vision loss among African-Americans in recent years. And it’s due in large part to the fact that many African-Americans have glaucoma and don’t even realize it.

You can find out if it’s something you need to be concerned about by having dilated eye exams regularly.

How Your Medical History Could Come into Play

Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes? Or have you suffered from certain eye conditions like retinal detachment in the past?

If either of these scenarios apply to you, your ophthalmologist or optometrist will likely suggest that you have dilated eye exams more often than not. Your medical history indicates that you could be at risk for dealing with additional eye troubles in the future.

That’s not to say that you should skip eye dilation during an annual eye exam simply because you haven’t struggled with an eye condition like retinal detachment or a health problem like diabetes.

But it is to say that those who already have a checkered past when it comes to eye conditions and health problems should avoid skipping dilation during eye exams at all costs.

How past Eye Exams Could Play a Role in Your Dilation Decision

Let’s say you’ve gotten into the habit of having your eyes examined every single year over the course of the last decade. You’ve also avoided making so much as a peep when your eye doctor has told you that you need to have your eyes dilated for your exam.

But this year, you’re just not in the mood to have dilation done. You need to be somewhere on the day of your annual eye exam, and you don’t want to have to worry about dealing with blurry vision and light sensitivity following your exam.

So, you ask your ophthalmologist or optometrist if they would be willing to let you skip dilation this time around. They check your chart, see that you have been examined every year for the last decade and experienced absolutely no eye problems, and say…

Truthfully, it depends on your eye doctor. Some ophthalmologists and optometrists want to do eye dilation during every annual eye exam, no questions asked.

But some will also let you off the hook if you haven’t demonstrated any eye issues year after year. You’re a low-risk patient, which means you don’t need to have dilation done as badly as many other patients.

That doesn’t mean you should use that as an excuse to try and skip dilation from here on out. But it does mean that, if you have a clean bill of health and a history of exhibiting no eye conditions, you could potentially skip over dilation every now and then with the blessing of your ophthalmologistor optometrist.

When Eye Dilation Might Not Be Necessary at All

Are you heading into your ophthalmologist’s or optometrist’s office to see about getting a new prescription for your glasses?

If so, this is one of the rare times when you won’t have to worry about your eyes being dilated during your appointment at all. Don’t bother preparing for dilation since it won’t need to be done.

In fact, eye dilation during an eye exam related to a prescription could actually affect your vision so much that your eye doctor won’t be able to get an accurate reading on your eyes. It’ll make an impact on the way you see and prevent your ophthalmologist or optometrist from providing you with an accurate prescription.

Dilation also won’t be necessary during follow-up visits related to both prescriptions and eye exams. It’s always a good idea to ask your eye doctor ahead of time if dilation is a possibility so that you can make the proper arrangements on your end.

Are There Any Alternatives to Having Your Eyes Dilated?

Believe it or not, eye dilation might become a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future.

While not all ophthalmologists and optometrists are utilizing them just yet, there are high-tech machines that are available now that are capable of performing retinal exams without dilation. They can snap photos of a person’s retina in a matter of seconds and send them on their way.

These machines are still very expensive, though, which means it might be a while before you’re able to use one during an annual eye exam.

In the meantime, your eye doctor may be able to recommend an alternative to normal dilation. If you just can’t stomach the idea of having dilating eye drops placed into your eyes, you might have options as far as alternatives are concerned.

Speak with your ophthalmologist or optometrist and see what else they would recommend for you.

Talk to Your Eye Doctor

There are lots of people who dread having eye dilation done because they’re unfamiliar with what it is and how it works. Those getting an eye exam done for the first time are scared about the procedure and end up being nervous about it every time after that.

If you aren’t comfortable with having your eyes dilated, take the time to talk to your ophthalmologist or optometrist with regards to what dilation is and how it helps them do their job better. You might gain a newfound appreciation for dilation and understand how it can protect you and potentially even save your eyes from unnecessary damage.

Contact us to schedule an eye exam and to learn more about some of the eye conditions we will check for during it.

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