To Dilate or Not to Dilate?

When the doctor asked if you’d like a dilated eye exam during your last visit, what was your answer? Did you say no? Did you know why he or she was asking, or even what it means?

Most of us have this common question during our annual vision exam – to dilate or not to dilate?

Dilation refers to the painless procedure in which the doctor uses eye drops to cause the pupil, the dark center of the eye, to widen.

By widening the pupil, the doctor can more easily see the optic nerve, blood vessels, and entire retina in the back of your eye. These parts of the eye not only enable vision, but can also allow your eye doctor to spot the warning signs of several diseases.

These diseases include:

• Diabetic retinopathy
• Macular degeneration
• Cataracts
• Some brain tumors
• Various systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesteol and lupus which often present signs in the eye


The American Optometric Association recommends you have a comprehensive eye exam with dilation at least bi-annually. However, they recommended an annual comprehensive if you are at risk.

Patients at risk include those with:

• Diabetes, hypertension or a family history of eye disease (e.g. glaucoma, macular degeneration)
• Occupations that are visually hazardous
• A history of taking prescription or non-prescription drugs with ocular side effects
• Contact lenses
• Previous eye surgery
• Any other health concerns seen as “at risk” by their doctor

A comprehensive eye exam with dilation may be covered as part of your annual vision benefit. Check with your insurance provider to learn the frequency of which this exam is covered, then be sure to take advantage of this valuable benefit.

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