Dilated Eye Exams – Why Do Eye Doctors Dilate Eyes?

July 07, 2020

Dilated Eye Exams

Why Do Doctors Dilate Eyes?

I got my first pair of glasses when I was 6 years old.  I loved being able to see everything with perfect detail, so the eye doctor was my favorite doctor to go to.  The only part that I regretted was getting dilated.  I didn’t understand why he needed to do that part.  We were both happy, telling jokes, saying my letters (easy), counting fingers (easy), then out of nowhere, we put our friendship pause because he wanted to put drops in my “eyeballs”.  Now I’m going to be blurry for hours, I can’t go outside without feeling intense pain, and I can’t do my homework because I can’t see it… Now, we are friends again!

I’m going to explain what dilation is, what you will experience when dilated and why is it an important part of an eye exam. During an eye exam, we assess your quality of vision and health of your eyes.  Online vision exams only test your visual acuity, or how well you can see small details.  Whereas we will check your center and peripheral, or side, vision, how well your eyes move together, the health of the front of your eyes and the back of your eyes.

I’m not going to go into each test that we perform, but we look at all these things because there are many different health conditions that can reveal itself in our eyes.  And looking in the back of the eyes is one of the best ways that we, as eye doctors, can identify and hopefully prevent major health problems. You can think of it this way. If I hear something outside of my house I could peak through the blinds to see what it is, but if I’m really concerned, then I will open up the blinds completely to look out the window. I can see more and have much less of a chance to miss something.

The area that we are looking at when we dilate is the lens, the vitreous and the retina.  None of these structures have pain receptors that tell us when there is a problem, so we can ignore many problems until they get big enough for us to notice, but oftentimes by then, it’s too late. Some of the things that we can diagnose by looking into the eyes are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, certain cancers and more.

But do I need to worry about it if I’m young and healthy?  Yes, even though you are less likely to have these issues, we could still find something. This is not to scare anyone.  I just want you to understand that when we dilate, it’s not that we want to see you squirm.  We do it to give you and us the assurance that everything is safe and healthy.

Remember, try to see your eye doctor yearly, so we can help you stay focused on what truly matters to you in your life.

Written by Dr. Vijay Shenai

True Focus Eye Care


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