Why do I need a dilated eye exam?
I am often asked by patients why their pupils need to be dilated for an annual comprehensive eye health examination. The short answer is that dilating the pupils allows for a better view of the internal structures of the eye. Imagine if you were standing outside a room and wanted to see what was hanging on the walls in the room but you could not enter the room. What would allow you to have a better view of the interior of the room, a peak through the keyhole or an open window? Obviously the larger the hole you can look through, the more of the interior of the room you can see. This is why we dilate your pupils, to get a better view of the inside of your eye to make sure it is healthy.
During the annual comprehensive eye health examination we will assess the health of the internal structures of your eye like the lens, vitreous, retina, blood vessels and optic nerve. Many problems (like cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachments) can be found simply by looking through the dilated pupil. In fact in many cases it is even possible to discover certain systemic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure through a dilated eye exam.
During your eye exam, which generally takes between 1 and 2 hours, you should expect to first see a technician who will gather some data for the doctor and then instill the dilating drops. This is a painless process.
After a very brief waiting period for the drops to dilate your pupils, you will see the doctor who will carefully examine all external and internal structures of your eye with various microscopes and bright lights. This, too, is a painless process although some patients are sensitive to the bright lights. Side effects of the dilating drops include blurry vision and sensitivity to bright lights lasting for just a few hours.
Most patients are not overly bothered by these symptoms, but we do recommend that you bring a driver along with you to your exam so that you do not need to drive home while your pupils are still dilated.
I look forward to seeing you at your next eye exam.