“Do I have to get dilated?”

“Do I have to get dilated?” This is one question we hear on a regular basis. As patients have experienced, dilation temporarily causes increased sensitivity to light as well as blurry vision when trying to read.  These side-effects typically last 4-6 hours.   Fortunately, distance vision is hardly affected. We recommend patients bring a driver to assist with transportation in case patients do not feel comfortable driving. Dilation allows for the best view of the back of the eye, or “fundus”. Undilated fundus exams limit the quality of views and restricts the doctor’s field of view  Well, do you have to get your eyes dilated?

Many eye diseases affecting the back of the eye start with few symptoms, if any. Glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy often do not have many early symptoms. This means patients are simply unaware that damage is occurring. For these diseases, there is no cure. Prevention and detection are vitally important to decide if treatment is needed. Dilated fundus examinations are the gold-standard for detecting retinal and optic nerve disease. Undilated eye examination may not allow for the views needed to detect subtle, early changes.

Another benefit to dilation for those with cataracts, is that dilation allows the doctor a much better view of the cataract.  We are better able to understand how the cataract is impacting vision with dilation. Dilated views also help to see if cataract surgery will be of significant benefit. While cataracts do not cause eye damage if left untreated, cataract surgery helps many patients each year maximize their vision.

Additionally for younger patients with eye strain or headache, dilation helps in prescribing spectacles by temporarily calming a certain focusing muscle inside the eye. Ideally, this muscle should not be heavily active unless reading; strain occurs when this muscle is overactive when playing outside or watching TV.

Ultimately patients must decide for themselves if they want to get dilated. We respect and value the patients’ right to choose, but we also explain why dilation is so important. Dilation is strongly recommended for the reasons listed above at annual or semi-annual intervals, depending on eye health.

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