How Long Does Eye Dilation Last?

Is your annual eye exam right around the corner? While at your appointment, your optometrist might dilate your pupils in order to be able to fully examine your eyes.

Eye dilation isn't anything to worry about. The best way to feel comfortable and confident during your visit is to know what to expect. Keep reading to learn more!

At a Glance

  • Eye dilation causes your pupils to stay open so your doctor can have a clear view of your retina. This allows them to check for eye diseases like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy.
  • Dilating eye drops take effect within 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Eye dilation typically lasts for four to six hours. Your vision will be back to normal once the drops wear off.
  • After dilation, be sure to wear proper eye protection and avoid driving.

See Related: Optician Vs. Optometrist Vs. Ophthalmologist: What's The Difference?

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Why Do I Need to Have My Pupils Dilated?

Your eyes are the gateway to your ocular health. An annual check-up provides your optometrist with necessary information about your eye health.

Eye dilation is a key part of any comprehensive eye exam. Normally, your pupil constricts when exposed to light, which can make it hard for your optometrist to thoroughly examine your eyes. Dilation drops cause your pupils to stay open so that your eye doctor can get a closer look at your retina.

Simply put, your retina is a translator, allowing your brain to process and understand the world around you. Your retina is a layer of light-sensitive tissue located at the back of your eyeball. Light-reactive cells in your retina, known as photoreceptors, convert light into electrical signals that are sent to your brain.

Why Is Eye Dilation Important?

With your pupils dilated, your eye doctor will have a clear view of the internal structures of your eye, including the entire retina, optic nerve, and blood vessels.

This allows them to help diagnose eye problems like glaucoma, retinal detachment, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.

Your optometrist will also be able to identify other conditions not directly related to your ocular health, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

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What Happens at a Dilated Eye Exam?

To kick off your eye exam, your optometrist will administer eye drops that dilate your eyes. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the effects take place within 20 to 30 minutes. Individuals with blue or green eyes might dilate faster than those with brown eyes, as light-colored eyes are more sensitive.

Once your pupils are dilated, your optometrist will conduct an eye exam. This might include some of the following tests:

  • Pupil response test: Your eye doctor will shine a small flashlight into your eyes to see how your pupils react.
  • Eye muscle function test: Your optometrist will move an object in front of you and ask you to follow it with your eyes. This allows them to check for any issues with the muscles surrounding your eyes.
  • Visual acuity test: You will be asked to read letters at varying distances to test your vision.
  • Visual field test: While holding your eyes still, your optometrist will check how well you see objects in your periphery to test your peripheral vision.
  • Tonometry test: Your eye doctor will swiftly puff a small amount of air into your eyes to test the pressures in your eye.
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Bonus: Why Does My Eye Hurt? Common Causes, Treatments, & More

How Long Does Pupil Dilation Last?

When your eyes are dilated, you might experience blurry vision and increased sensitivity to bright lights. The effects aren't overly uncomfortable, but they are something to keep in mind.

The duration of pupil dilation can vary depending on a few factors. According to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, eye dilation can last between four and 24 hours. But for most people, the effects will fully wear off between four to six hours.

Factors Affecting the Duration of Eye Dilation

It's nearly impossible to know how long your pupils will remain dilated. Everyone's eyes react differently to dilating drops. Several determining factors include:

  • Eye color: People with lighter-colored eyes tend to experience the effects of pupil dilation for longer than those with dark-colored eyes.
  • Age: Young children have a stronger focus mechanism in their eyes. Because of this, children’s eyes are usually dilated with stronger drops, the effects of which can last as long as 24 hours.
  • Type of drops: Stronger eye drops will last longer than weaker dilating drops.

Final Thoughts

Before your dilated eye exam, familiarizing yourself with the process can make your session a bit more comfortable. At Oculus Eyecare, we offer comprehensive eye care services and frame fitting consultations so that you can walk away with your vision needs fully satisfied.

Keep Reading: Why Are My Eyes So Dry?

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Make Eye Dilation Go Away Faster?

There's not much you can do to make eye dilation effects wear off faster. In general, you'll just need to wait out the effects and keep your eyes as comfortable as possible in the meantime.

Can I Drive After Eye Dilation?

Dilation can slightly impair your eyesight, so it's not recommended to drive after getting your eyes dilated. You might experience increased light sensitivity and blurred vision, so it's best to play it safe and not get behind the wheel.

Do I Need to Wear Sunglasses After Dilation?

Always be sure to wear sunglasses after your eye exam. Because your pupils aren't able to fully constrict after dilation, not wearing proper eye protection can lead to discomfort and potentially harmful effects. You might experience increased light sensitivity, eye strain, and headaches.

Dark-tinted shades like the 191 Sun from Eyevan 7285 or The Antihero from ic! berlin will keep your eyes comfortable in a sleek and stylish frame. Our collection of luxury eyewear from independent designers is built to last, allowing you to gain newfound confidence while taking care of your vision needs.


Oculus Eyecare is Seattle’s premier optometry practice and optical boutique for those looking to see and be seen in a new way. Located in South Lake Union on Denny Way, Oculus Eyecare offers comprehensive eye care services and exams for individuals and families in Seattle. Click here to schedule an appointment or a personal styling session. To stay connected and learn more, follow us on FacebookInstagram, and X/Twitter.


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