It is important that the ophthalmologist is able to examine the back of the eye, including the retina, the optic nerve and vessels as this is a very important part of preventative eye care. Many systemic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure can be first discovered during the dilated eye exam, and it also allows the doctor to get a more accurate glasses prescription in children.
Dilating drops work on one of two principles: they either stimulate the iris muscle that opens the pupil, or they prevent action of the iris muscle that closes the pupil. Once the drops are put in and the pupil is unable to function normally, it allows the doctor a much better and complete view of the retina.
Some dilating drops also prevent accommodation, which is the eye’s way of changing its focusing distance and allows a person to see clearly far away and up close until about the age of 40 when the lens becomes less flexible and accommodation is gradually lost. Children and young adults are able to accommodate very well, and this sometimes prevents the doctor from being able to get an accurate prescription for glasses in this age group. Dilating drops solve this problem.
Getting the eyes dilated can be an annoyance for patients, but it’s painless and an important part of a complete and thorough eye exam. To make the process more comfortable, it’s helpful for a patient to:
- Bring a pair of dark sunglasses to wear on the way home. Disposable sunglasses are also available at the check-out desk.
- Don’t plan activities (such as reading fine print) after your appointment that require crisp vision.
- If you know you’ll have trouble seeing to drive home even with dark sunglasses, bring someone to drive you.
- Avoid wearing heavy eye makeup the day of your appointment.