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Eye Dilation - What to Expect

Updated on October 9, 2014

First Time Eye Dilation during Eye Exam

I am 30 years old and I had my eyes dilated for the first time. I think my eye doctor was surprised that this would be my first time having them dilated. I was nervous about what to expect. I know it's not a big medical procedure but knowing that doesn't really help me feel calm! What helps me to feel calm is to read what to expect beforehand.

About this Photo This is a photo of my eye, about 1 hour after getting the eye drops for dilation! As you can see, my pupil is HUGE!

How are eyes dilated and what does the doctor do?

My optometrist had me tilt my head back and he put drops in my eyes to dilate them. Then I had to wait about 20 minutes for the drops to take effect. During this time, I was free to roam around the store. I noticed that slowly things became a little blurrier and it was hard to focus on close-up objects.

After about 20 minutes, I returned to the eye doctor office and he looked in my eyes. He wore a magnifying lens on his head and shined a bright light into my eyes. He asked me to look to the left and to the right, and then raised my chair up so that he could see the top of my eyes as well. This process didn't take that long.

My Sunglasses and Flimsy Shields
My Sunglasses and Flimsy Shields

My Eye Doctor Gave Me These "Shields"

You NEED sunglasses for going outside after eye dilation.

These flimsy shields are supposed to go behind your eyeglasses. However, they don't seem to be anti-reflective and they didn't work at all for me! (Bright light from behind reflected into my eyes!)

So, don't rely on the eye doctor to give you something to protect your eyes from sunlight. Bring your own sunglasses!

My Advice

Have someone drive you, bring sunglasses, and don't expect to do much reading or computer work for 3-6 hours.

Shield your eyes!
Shield your eyes!

How does it feel to have your eyes dilated?

Since I had my eye exam at Costco, I decided to do some shopping afterwards. In the store, things only seemed a little brighter than normal. I could see well enough to shop, but focusing on close-up objects was difficult. My eye doctor told me to take off my glasses to see close-up while my eyes were dilated, and that did help. I generally found that if I held things a little farther away from me I could see better.

To give an idea of how well I could see, I had no trouble paying (seeing the money in my wallet and typing in my PIN number into the checkout machine went fine) but trying to find the expiration date on the stuff I was buying was a real challenge. As you probably can relate, finding an expiration date can be difficult when your vision is doing great... So I skipped looking for the expiration dates and I actually bought one tomato that was rotting (I didn't notice it...).

Then, I went outside, into bright sunlight - and that was bad! I wore sunglasses but everything was still too bright. I am very thankful that my husband came along so that he could drive me. I don't recommend driving, no matter what anyone else says!

Eye dilation can last up to 6 hours... I started feeling like my vision had returned to normal in about 4 hours. Not 100% normal, but comfortable enough to work on the computer.

I didn't feel any pain, except for a dull ache which was hardly noticeable.

Neat photo of the eye's retina, not sure how this photo was taken though.
Neat photo of the eye's retina, not sure how this photo was taken though.

Why have your eyes dilated?

Eye dilation allows your doctor to look at the back of your eye to see your eye's health. According to Mayo Clinic, some of the diseases and conditions that the eye doctor can see are: Vasculitis, Diabetes, Eye tumors, High blood pressure, Infectious diseases, Macular degeneration, and Retinal detachment.

I've heard that the earlier they spot a problem, the better it is! So dilation is a great way to check for general health problems as well as specific eye problems.

Eye dilation is not necessarily a part of every eye exam. I've been to the Optometrists three times previously for glasses and didn't have my eyes dilated. However, recently I went to Costco Optical for my Eye exam and dilation is included in the cost. I didn't expect this, so I actually came back later to do this part of the exam. I didn't want to try driving afterwards!

What's your experience with eye dilation? - Do you think it's a big deal? Does it bother you much?

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