As part of your regular eye exam, your optometrist may ask to dilate your eyes for a more thorough exam.
Dilation is when your pupils are opened so that your doctor can better check the back of your eye or a larger portion of your retina and optic nerve. This is important because this is where your doctor can look for signs of glaucoma, which can cause blindness, macular degeneration, and several other eye conditions and diseases. Your optometrist can more easily see an ocular tumor or a retinal tear through a wider pupil.
Dilation is a fairly painless process, but there are some things to be aware of with this step in your exam because it can be a little disorienting.
First, your optometrist will most likely dilate your pupils with eye drops. If you’ve ever used over-the-counter eye drops before, the dilation eye drops will feel similar to that when your doctor administers them. You’ll then wait about 20 minutes for the drops to take effect and open your pupils.
The full effects of dilation will likely last from four to six hours. When your eyes are dilated, they will be much more sensitive to light for several hours. So, come with a pair of sunglasses, even if it’s a cloudy day.
While you will be able to drive after an appointment with dilation, you may have to wait until your eyes return to some normalcy before you get behind the wheel. You may find that light will be too distracting for driving without sunglasses, so in that case, you can try to rely on a friend to drive you home.
Most people also experience blurry vision with dilation. This can make it harder to sign forms when you check-out or to read anything. If you’d rather not have your eyes dilated, there are some alternatives, which your optometrist can review with you, but they may cost more.
Finally, most insurance that covers eye exams covers the cost of dilation, but it’s not a bad idea to double-check your policy if you have never been dilated before.
Your optometrist’s office will probably help you through the small discomforts and inconveniences that come with dilation, but it never hurts to be aware of what to expect.