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Is It Necessary to Have Your Eyes Dilated During Every Eye Exam?

A thorough, dilated exam allows your ophthalmologist to do a complete exam of the retina, and that is important to do throughout your life, as several eye diseases and conditions are detected at their earliest stages during a thorough eye exam:

Prescription Only?

On the other hand, Dr. William Barlow of the University of Utah's Moran Eye Center notes, "Dilation isn't always required. In fact, if you are seeing your eye doctor solely to get a prescription, dilation induces potential changes to a prescription that aren't present in the normal state of the eye when the iris/pupil is not dilated. The exception is when we're examining young children. We dilate because they have a greater capacity to accommodate and to allow the doctor to use an objective measure to confirm their prescription (i.e. retinoscopy) if they're not very cooperative. Of course, it's always important to dilate if we want to do a complete exam of the retina."

Factors Your Eye Doctor Considers When Determining Whether Eye Dilation Is Necessary:

Age. The risk of eye diseases increases with age—particularly over age 40.

Eye health. If you've experienced eye diseases that affect the back of the eye, such as retinal detachment, you may have an increased risk of future eye problems.

Overall health. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, increase the risk of eye disease.

Reason for the exam. Are you in good health, under 40 and wondering if you need vision correction? You may not need a dilated exam this time, but know that you should have one at least every few years and more frequently as you get older. If it's your very first eye exam, it's a good idea to go with dilation for a baseline exam. You can discuss this with your doctor.

If you have new, worrisome eye symptoms or vision problems, then eye dilation may be necessary to make a diagnosis.

Results of previous exams: If recent eye exams have included eye dilation with no unusual findings, it may be possible to skip the eye-dilation portion of your next exam.

General Guidelines

  • Children should receive their first comprehensive eye examination before the age of 3, unless a specific condition or history of family childhood vision problems warrants an earlier examination.
  • Anyone with a history of visual problems should get routine preventive care.
  • People ages 20 to 30 should have an eye exam every two years, unless visual changes, pain, flashes of light, new floaters, injury, or tearing occurs. Then, immediate care is necessary.
  • Yearly exams become important in the late thirties, when changes in vision and focus along with eye diseases, are more likely to develop.