Eye Dilation: Everything You Need to Know

Eye dilation has been practiced for centuries, albeit for very different purposes in the past. In fact, scientists knew how to dilate the pupil because of a beautifying procedure used by women in Renaissance Italy to give them a “doe-eyed” appearance. 

We certainly don’t use eye dilation to enhance our features or make ourselves more appealing anymore, but we do use it to check for a number of signs of poor eye health. 

If you’ve never had your eyes dilated before, it may seem like a strange or daunting procedure. Realistically, it’s a quick and relatively painless procedure that is part of a comprehensive eye exam

That being said, we understand that you might have some questions before you have your eyes dilated. We’re here to answer everything from, “How long does eye dilation last?” to, “How often should I have my eyes dilated?” Read on for our complete guide to eye dilation!

How is Eye Dilation Performed?

At the end of your regular eye exam, your eye doctor will administer eye dilating drops. This process isn’t harmful and could even be compared to putting in regular eye drops.

Over the course of the next 20 to 30 minutes, your pupils will dilate. Normally, our pupils dilate when we’re in dark spaces. Once exposed to light (like the one your eye doctor will need to use for various eye health examinations), they contract.

What Are the Symptoms of Eye Dilation?

Because our eyes are our windows to the world, it can be a little disconcerting when they’re not “right.” Knowing what symptoms to expect can help cut down on any stress you might feel about the procedure because you will know what side effects to attribute to it. More importantly, you’ll know that they’re not serious or permanent and they will pass.

Some people may experience a stinging in the eyes in the immediate moments of dilation. This is most likely to occur when the drops are being administered and shouldn’t continue throughout the rest of the procedure.

You also might experience blurry vision and difficulty focusing on objects that are close to you. You will most likely experience light sensitivity until the drops wear off and your pupils can react appropriately to light again. 

How Long Does Eye Dilation Last?

Chances are, your eye doctor won’t be able to predict an exact amount of time that dilation will last. That’s because it varies from patient to patient.

Depending on the amount of melanin in your irises, which determines the color of your eyes, your eyes may dilate more quickly. If your eyes are lighter in color, say blue or green, your eyes will dilate more quickly. If you have more melanin in your iris and have darker eyes, it will take a bit longer.

Ultimately, dilation tends to last between 4 to 6 hours. In that time, you will continue to experience some or all of the symptoms listed above. For some patients, dilation can last longer than 6 hours, but it’s not common.

There is no real way to make eye dilation go away faster, so it’s best to sit tight, wait it out, and try not to stress! If you are concerned about the amount of time it’s taking for dilation to pass, contact your eye doctor.

Why Do We Need to Get Our Eyes Dilated?

Dilation allows your eye doctor to see certain parts of your eyes that are otherwise unavailable to see. When your pupils are widened, your eye doctor can use a magnifying lens to see the inside and back of your eye.

Why is this important? Eye doctors need to inspect the retina, blood vessels, optic nerve, and other parts of the inner and back eye to diagnose certain eye health issues. These issues will affect your vision over time and in some cases, catching them can help diagnose other health problems.

Glaucoma

The optic nerve is the component of your eye that sends visual information to your brain. In other words, we need it to make sense of what we’re seeing and ultimately to see, at all.

Glaucoma is typically caused by high amounts of pressure in the eye that can damage the optic nerve. The earlier it’s caught, the more damage can be prevented. Untreated, glaucoma will cause vision loss and may even cause blindness.

Retinal Detachment

We often take vision for granted, but a lot has to happen for you to “see” what’s in front of you! First, light passes through the eye and your lens focuses an image on your retina. The retina partners with the optic nerve by converting images into the signals your optic nerve can carry to your brain. 

Retinal detachment is the separation of your retina from the back of your eye. This means that the connection between the retina and the optic nerve has been severed. Depending on how much of the retina has detached from the back of your eye, you may experience partial or full loss of vision.

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is most commonly related to age and is more likely to affect people 65 years and older. It is typically caused by a build-up of deposits beneath the macula, causing retinal damage. Occasionally, macular degeneration is caused by abnormal blood vessel development in that same area.

Macular degeneration does not cause full vision loss, but it is still very frustrating! Although you will still retain some of your vision, your central vision will be compromised. In other words, you’ll be able to use your peripheral vision, but it will be difficult to impossible to see what’s directly ahead of your eye line.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by a combination of either type 1 or 2 diabetes and high blood sugar. In fact, diagnosing retinopathy has helped some patients to receive a medical diagnosis of diabetes! 

In the early stages, blood vessels may become damaged and leak fluid into the eye. This may cause the retina to swell. In later stages or more severe cases of retinopathy, the retina will grow new, abnormal blood vessels that make their way to the center of the eye.

If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy will worsen and can cause blindness.

When Should We Start Getting Our Eyes Dilated?

Most eye doctors recommend that general eye exams should begin in childhood, but not every eye exam includes dilation. So when should you ask your eye doctor about dilation?

There are several different factors that determine when you should start getting your eyes dilated. If you haven’t gotten your eyes dilated by the time you are 60 years of age, you should begin getting them yearly. However, you may need to start at an earlier age depending on your health and even your ethnicity.

If you have had previous eye health issues, such as retinal detachment, or ongoing issues, such as glaucoma, you should receive yearly dilation. This is also the case if you have other health problems that may affect your eye health, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

If you are African American or Hispanic, you are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma and may want to begin dilation at the age of 40 or so.    

Finally, if your eye doctor detects something during a regular eye examination that raises concern, you should heed their advice and allow them to dilate your eyes. If you aren’t prepared for the procedure that same day, schedule a follow up for the near future. 

How Can We Prepare for Eye Dilation?

There are a few tips for preparing for eye dilation that will make the procedure and recovery smoother.

Do your research and find a doctor you’re comfortable with! While any qualified eye doctor can perform eye dilation, it doesn’t hurt to work with someone that makes you feel safe and secure.

For starters, arrange a ride home. While some people are comfortable driving after they’ve had their eyes dilated, you may find it disconcerting the first few times and we don’t recommend trying. Have a family member or friend take you to and from your appointment or arrange to have a hired car pick you up.

Whether or not you choose to drive, bring sunglasses and maybe even a baseball cap! If it’s a sunny day, you may find the light abrasive and headache-inducing. Providing yourself with a little shade and darkness will ease your photophobia!

If you usually wear contacts, consider opting for your glasses until your eyes have gone back to normal. While there aren’t risks associated with contact lenses after dilation, it could simply be uncomfortable!

Finally, schedule some downtime for the hours following the surgery. Avoid bright computer screens, TVs, and even print, as trying to watch or read things may strain your eyes.

Stay On Top of Your Eye Health

How long does eye dilation last? What is it for? What are the risks?

These are all valid questions and it’s normal to feel anxious about or weary of a procedure you’ve never had. However, it’s important to stay on top of your eye health. As we’ve discussed in this article, many eye issues are treatable and it’s important to catch them before it’s too late!

If you need an eye doctor in the Orlando area, contact us to discuss procedures and set an appointment. Whether you need to have your eyes dilated or just need a routine exam to update your prescription, we’re happy to help!

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