How Long Will My Eyes Stay Dilated After Examination?

When you visit a doctor for an eye exam, your doctor puts eye drops into your eyes to keep the pupils dilated and the eye surface numb. This allows the eye doctor to examine the back of the eyes (retina) by shining a bright light through the eyes. The dilating eye drops take about 20 minutes to achieve maximum pupil dilation. Then how long does the dilated state last?


How Long Will My Eyes Stay Dilated?

The effect of dilating eye drops takes between 4 and 24 hours to wear off. This depends on the individual patient, and the type and strength of the drops. If your eyes are light-colored, your pupils may stay dilated longer. Children’s eyes require stronger pupil dilating drops than adults to get accurate results. For this reason, children’s eyes may be dilated for a period longer than 24 hours. Weaker dilating eye drops are used on premature babies. In case your eyes remain dilated for an abnormally longer period, it’s important that you talk to your doctor for assistance. 

Are There Any Side Effects of Dilating Eyes?

Yes. Besides the answer to "how long will my eyes stay dilated", here are some common side effects to keep in mind.

1.     Mydriatic Effects

When pupil-dilating eye drops are applied, you may experience a burning or stinging feeling for the first one or two minutes. Your eyes may also redden or feel irritated. Drops such as phenylephrine that are mydriatic (dilating) and non-cycloplegic (acting on the ciliary muscle) will keep the pupils dilated for a number of hours. Dilation causes blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Some patients may also experience headaches and pain in the brow.

2.     Cycloplegic Effects

Cycloplegic drops such as atropine act on the ciliary muscle which keeps the pupils dilated for longer. In some cases, atropine can keep the eyes dilated for up to two weeks. During this time, eyes may remain red and keep watering. Additionally, swelling of the eyelids may occur. Because cycloplegic drugs can raise the intra-ocular pressure in patients with narrow-angle glaucoma, cycloplegics should not be used on such patients. Another adverse effect of cycloplegics is loss of accommodation in the eyes.

3.     Systemic Effects

Once dilating drops are applied, they end up in the patient’s other bodily systems where they may have various adverse effects. These include headaches, elevated blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, paleness, dizziness, dry mouth, dry skin and tiredness. Consult your doctor if you experience the above side effects.

Home Care of Your Eyes After Dilation

After undergoing an eye exam in which dilating drops were used, observe the following:

  • Do not drive, operate machinery or read small prints until your eyes get back to normal.
  • Keep away from bright light.
  • Wear sunglasses when you go outdoors.

If any of the following happens, consult your doctor:

  • Your blurred vision worsening when focusing on distant objects
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Worsening headache 
  • Pupils still dilated after 24 hours
  • Sensitivity to light beyond 24 hours
  • Inability to focus on nearby objects for more than 24 hours.

Remember it is better to get expert advice than to keep wondering silently "how long will my eyes stay dilated". 

Frequently Asked Questions About Dilated Eyes

1.      How Does Eye Dilation Work, Anyway?

The pupil-dilating eye drops are made from two components, each having a distinct effect. One has the effect of stimulating the muscle that opens the iris, while the other paralyses the ciliary muscle responsible for contracting the opening of the pupil. The overall effect is to keep your pupils open wide for an extended period sufficient for your eye doctor to carry out the examination. In this state your eye will not adjust or focus, which is the reason you might be unable to read for some time after application of the drops. The combination of the dilating drops is determined by the purpose of the examination and the type of patient – a slit lamp examination requires a specific combination and a surgery patient needs another.

2.      Will It Affect My Work for the Day?

For patients whose work involves reading or fine details, application of dilating drops may affect the way you work for the day. If possible, get an appointment for a time when you won’t have to go back to work for the day. Nearsighted people may work just fine by simply putting down the glasses so that your eyes use their natural vision. This does not work for long-sighted people. If your work does not involve fine detail or reading and the glare is not very uncomfortable, you can go right back to work.

3.      Who Should Have the Dilating Eye Drops?

Now that you know the answer to "how long will my eyes stay dilated?" then do you need to have your eyes dilated? Everyone who goes for eye examination is a likely candidate for tests involving dilating eye drops. This means that if you go for regular eye exam, the eye doctor may need to use the drops on your eyes. Dilating drops may also be used in cases of brain tumors and head injuries.

For people with diabetes, it is advisable to go for regular dilated eye examination. Diabetes is associated with eye problems which can lead to loss of vision or even blindness. These tests will help your doctor to notice any negative changes in your eyes. This way, remedial action can be taken at the earliest. 

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