What happens after eye dilation?

man with dilated eyes

How long do eyes stay dilated after an eye exam?

While most people can expect their eyes to return to normal in four to six hours, the effects vary from person to person, and in some cases, dilation can last as long as 24 hours.

For example, children and people with lighter colored eyes may experience dilated pupils for up to 24 hours after the exam.

Your doctor will not be able to tell you exactly how long the effects will last, so it’s best to let your employer or family know that you’re having your eyes dilated and make sure you have someone to drive you home after your eye exam

How to cope with the effects of dilation? A good pair of sunglasses should help you safely return to daily tasks. 

Why does my eye doctor dilate my eyes?

If you’ve ever had a comprehensive eye exam, you’ve likely had your eyes dilated. And while it may be a little uncomfortable, a dilated eye test is the only way to check for early signs of eye diseases like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Doctors use special eye dilation drops to widen the pupils, which allows more light to enter the eye. This makes it easier to thoroughly examine the back of your eye (and specifically, the retina) for certain conditions that might otherwise be undetectable. 

SEE RELATED: Why does my doctor want to dilate my eyes?

When is it safe to drive after eye dilation?

After eye dilation, some people experience blurry vision and are unable to see and read clearly for a couple of hours, making driving a dangerous task. 

Dilating your eyes makes them much more sensitive to light and glare. Sunglasses may help some people to safely operate a vehicle after dilation, but if your vision remains unclear even with your eyes shielded, it’s best to let someone else drive. 

If you’ve experienced blurry vision in the past or you’ve never had your pupils dilated, play it safe and have a friend or family member drive you home after your eye exam.

WHEN WAS YOUR LAST EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and schedule an appointment. 

Can dilating eyes cause damage?

Generally speaking, applying dilating drops alone will not cause eye damage, and allergic reactions are very rare. 

Because dilated pupils allow more light to enter the eyes, wearing proper sun protection is vital. Doctors recommend bringing your own sunglasses to the exam, but in case you forget, your doctor should be able to provide you with temporary wraparound eye protection. 

Bright sunlight can be blinding, especially after dilation, and without proper sunglasses, you risk ultraviolet ray exposure because your pupils are unable to naturally constrict. 

What is the alternative to eye dilation?

New technologies, such as Optomap ultra-widefield retinal imaging, let eye doctors view the retina without dilating your eyes. 

Optomap may be an added cost to your basic eye exam, so ask your eye doctor. Also, note that there have been cases in which traditional dilation and ophthalmoscopy detected retinal holes that the imaging failed to capture. 

READ NEXT: What not to do after eye dilation

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