Dilated eye exams allow eye doctors to get a better view of the inside of the eye. If you have never had a dilated eye exam before, you may be wondering what to expect – or if you even need one. Dilated eye exams are recommended on a yearly basis for anyone age 60 or older. If you are African American, we recommend that you begin getting yearly dilated eye exams at age 40. This is due to an increased risk of developing glaucoma. Similarly, those who suffer from diabetes are recommended to begin their yearly exam earlier than age 60, due to the increased risk of eye disease that comes with diabetes.

What is a dilated eye exam?

During a dilated eye exam, your doctor will put eye drops into each eye. These drops dilate the pupil, making it larger. The pupil is the black center of the iris, the colored part of the eyeball. This is where light enters the eye. By increasing the size of the pupil, your doctor is making this entrance larger and allowing more light into the eye. Just as you can see better in a dark room when the window shade is opened and more light floods in, your doctor can see the inside of your eye much better with the pupil dilated. Using a magnifying lens your doctor is able to clearly see your optic nerve, macula, and retina.

Doctors use dilated eye exams to diagnose many conditions that do not have any early symptoms or indicators. Among these conditions are glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinal tears, and ocular tumors. This exam also gives your doctor a look at the overall health of your eyes.

What does dilation feel like?

Once your doctor has placed the drops in your eyes, it takes about 15 minutes for your pupils to fully dilate. Dilation is not painful or even uncomfortable. Your eyes may be sensitive to light, however, as so much extra light is entering the eyes. Bring sunglasses (or your doctor may provide some) so that your eyes will feel comfortable in normal light after the exam. Dilated eyes may also experience blurry vision, particularly when reading, using your phone, or attempting other up close activities. It is possible to drive after dilated eye exams. However, we recommend that you bring a chauffeur to your first pupil dilation. This is so that you do not have to drive with your eyes dilated before you know what to expect and how your eyes react.

How long does dilation last?

You may be wondering how long do eyes stay dilated after eye exams. Dilation lasts 4-6 hours after the drops are initially put into the eyes. This is important to keep in mind when scheduling your dilated eye exam. If you need to return to work immediately after your appointment, you may have trouble reading or working on a computer, as your vision could remain blurry until the dilation wears off.