Why do you need regular dilated eye exams

You would open the door to see inside a room, rather than peek through the keyhole. This is the same that doctors do. When they need a full view of what is inside, they open the door wide and let light in. Dilated eye exams are so valuable. Your ophthalmologist uses medicated eye drops to make your pupils larger, allowing a much more comprehensive look inside your eyes. What we see allows us to detect and treat the diseases that may affect your sight.

When do you need a dilated eye exam?

For people under age 18, we recommend dilated exams yearly. It’s crucial to diagnose and correct eye disease in youth so it doesn’t lead to lifelong complications.

At age 18 and 60, you should have a yearly eye exam, but you may only need a dilated exam every two years. However, after age 60, your risk goes up — and so does your need. Thus it is necessary to have a dilated exam every year.

What is your doctor looking for?

When your eyes are dilated, your doctor is looking for signs and symptoms that may go unnoticed otherwise.

Glaucoma, for example, or the “silent thief” of sight starts with no clear symptoms. But with dilation, your doctor can search for signs of damage to your optic nerve.

Another clear example is diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness. In a dilated exam, your doctor can search for the blood vessel damage or abnormality that comes with this disease and seek ways to prevent it from getting worse.

In addition, we look for early warning signs of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, among other conditions. We can see some signs and symptoms through a non-dilated exam, but, for getting the full picture, nothing beats a dilated exam.

How can you prepare?

When you make an appointment, ask if it’s time for a dilated exam. Knowing the answer will help you prepare properly.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Prepare for a longer exam. It takes about 20–30 minutes for the pupils to fully dilate once we put the eye drops in.
  • Bring sunglasses. After the exam, your eyes likely will be sensitive to light. Wearing sunglasses can help. Most offices will provide them, too.
  • Plan for some visual effects. Many people will experience some issues with blurry up-close vision after dilation, as well. Effects such as light sensitivity and blurry vision may last anywhere from two to 12 hours, but they go away for most people within about four hours.
  • Take a person to accompany you if you need help getting home because of these effects.

Forget about these mild effects and don’t ignore the need for dilated exams. If you want to preserve your lifelong vision, your doctor needs to see the full picture inside your eye.