What Happens When Your Eyes Are Dilated?

During eye examinations, a doctor can examine the inside of your eyes by looking through the pupil to the retina. Ordinarily, our pupils shrink when a doctor shines a light into them. With special eye drops that dilate the eye, our pupils will open wide even when light is applied. People with light eye color – blue or green – may be more sensitive and dilate faster than people with dark eye color.

Dilating eyedrops take about 15 -20 minutes to work and permit your eye doctor to see much more of the inner eye, and ensuring the eye exam is thorough. The drops can either stimulate the iris muscle that opens the pupil or prevent the muscle from closing the pupil.

By dilating the pupil, your doctor can check the optic nerve, the macula and the blood vessels for signs of disease or cataract. Doctors also use pupil dilation to diagnose diabetes, eye tumors, high blood pressure, macular degeneration and glaucoma, as well as tears or holes that might lead to retinal detachment.

Dilating eye drops do have side effects, including increased sensitivity to light and difficulty focusing up close for a few hours. They may also cause blurry vision. This means you should give yourself plenty of time not only for the exam but for the recovery time itself. Wearing a pair of dark sunglasses can protect eyes from bright sunlight. You might also consider alternative transportation home since you may have trouble driving.

Eye dilation may not be necessary, although your doctor will consider factors such as eye health and age. The National Institute of Health recommends a yearly dilated eye exam if you’re over 60. Diabetes, or a history of eye disease, will be another reason for pupil dilation. African Americans are advised to get a dilated eye exam beginning at age 40 because of a higher risk of glaucoma.

To schedule an eye exam, or for any questions about dilated eye exams, you can call our eye care specialists at 877-871-1684.