Dilating drops, what are they and are they necessary?

Dilating drops are an integral part of the eye exam for adults and for children.  They allow the doctor to see past the pupil, to examine the inside of the eye.  They allow us to diagnose conditions such as Glaucoma, Diabetic retinopathy and Macular degeneration.  In addition, they relax they ability for children to accomodate, or focus, allowing a more accurate prescription for the eye.

In general, most doctors use a combination of drops.  One drop relaxes the muscle that constricts the pupil and one stimulates the muscle that dilates the pupil.  An anesthetic drop is often used first as the dilating drops can sting.  Blue-eyed people are oftentimes more sensitive to the affects of dilating drops than brown-eyed patients.  They typically last between 6 and 8 hours but can last up to 24 hours.  A drop called, Atropine, which is used to dilate the pupil as a substitute for amblyopia (lazy eye), can last up to a few weeks.  Although many patients are apprehensive about using dilating drops, most are surprised at how minimal the side-effects are.  Most patients have mild light sensitivity and blurred near vision.  Atropine can cause, in rare circumstances, a flushed face, fever, or a rapid pulse.

Dilating drops, in addition to helping Ophthalmologists examine patients, can be used for medical purposes as well.  Atropine in .01% has been found to decrease the progression of myopia in children.  Dilating drops are used to treat patients with inflammatory conditions.  They decrease ocular spasm and decrease the risk of scarring as well.  As above, Atropine 1% can be used as a substitute for patching in patients with amblyopia, or a lazy eye.  They are a valuable resource for patients who are non-compliant with patching.

If you are an adult and need to be dilated for an exam, you may consider bringing a driver, due to the potential for blurred vision and light sensitivity.

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