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A dilated examination allows your eye doctor to see the entire inside of your eye by using eyedrops. These drops cause your pupils (the black areas in the center of the eyes) to open wider (dilate). With the pupils dilated, your doctor has a better view of the lens (the clear part of the eye behind the pupil that light travels through) and the retina (the back lining of the eye that contains the optic nerve and the only visible blood vessels in the body).

What does the doctor see?

Looking through a normal pupil is like looking through a keyhole into a closet. The doctor can see only a narrow area. When the pupils are dilated, it's like opening the door of the closet, allowing the doctor to see a larger area including the outer edges of the eye. If there are any signs of problems or disease, there is a better chance of detecting them by viewing the entire internal eye.

Who should have a dilated eye exam?

You don't need to have something wrong with your eyes to require a dilated exam. Doctors use dilated exams to screen for any problems that might threaten your vision. The procedure allows your eye doctor to examine your eyes for problems such as retinal detachments, glaucoma and macular degeneration. People with diabetes should have their eyes dilated at least once a year so that their doctors can monitor the effects of the disease on their retinas. Dilation is also important for people taking medication such as Hydroxychloroquine (Plaqueniltm) and prednisone.

Are there side effects?

Most people experience few side effects other than blurry vision and a sensitivity to light for a few hours after the exam. You may not be able to do any close work that requires eye coordination (such as reading or sewing) for a few hours after the exam. Dilation is a very safe procedure and with the right preparation you should experience little inconvenience and discomfort.

Before your dilated eye exam, remember to:

  • Arrange for someone to drive you home from the exam or plan to take public transportation
  • Bring a pair of sunglasses
  • Bring a pair of glasses if you wear contact lenses