Most comprehensive eye exams are made up of multiple parts. There are tests on the sharpness of your vision, and the classic “eye cover” test. Eye physicians often test for things like glaucoma as well during your visit. One of the most crucial parts of the exam is the dilation, where your optometrist will dilate your pupils in an effort to see more of your eye. Here's why a dilated eye exam is important:
The internal structures of an eye are often difficult to see when an exam is performed without dilation. The band of light that travels through the pupil is often too narrow to accurately see the full internal structures of your eyes. Therefore, many times your doctor will have you do a dilation as part of your annual eye exam.
Getting this procedure may be slightly uncomfortable or inconvenient, but it is worth this minor trouble. Because our pupils don’t naturally dilate when light is present (they instead shrink), your optometrist will likely give you dilation drops. These can take close to a half hour to reach full effect, and the dilation can last for over an hour after (depending on the drops given to you). Your eyes will be more sensitive to light, so the drive home may be a little more difficult than usual.
However, this is no reason to not get a dilated eye exam as part of your comprehensive exam. Getting a dilated exam ensures that you have no underlying conditions that may present themselves in the internal structures of your eyes. For example, patients with diabetes (or at risk of developing diabetes) may have diabetic retinopathy. This disease can cause light sensitivity, and it can also cause blood vessels and other internal structures to grow improperly.
For patients over age 50, getting a dilated exam can help detect age-related macular degeneration. This condition is a common cause for blindness and decreased vision quality in older patients, so getting a dilated exam can help to detect the condition before it worsens. A dilation exam can also help to detect glaucoma, wherein the optic nerve has deteriorated and made seeing more difficult.
While it may take some extra time from your day to get a dilation exam, it can save you time in the future if there is a problem detected. Your physician can tell you early and possibly work to correct the issue, which is ideal. Get an exam soon if you haven’t already booked your annual appointment!