How Long Do Eyes Stay Dilated After an Eye Exam?

By dilating your pupils, an ophthalmologist gets a better view of the internal structure of your eye. It allows the doctor to examine the blood vessels, retina, lens, and optic nerve. In turn, he or she can diagnose any problems that cannot be seen without dilation.

The doctor uses special drops to relax or contract the eye muscles. Once the muscles open up, the doctor can do a comprehensive exam of the eyes. But how long do eyes stay dilated?

A few different factors influence the time it takes your eye to go back to normal. This article will help you understand how the pupil works and how to deal with some of the dilation side effects.

The Pupil

Your pupils work much like a camera aperture. They open or close, depending on the amount of light that’s needed for you to see properly.

The process of constriction or closing is called miosis, while mydriasis is the name for the pupil dilation process. Your eyes remain in the state of mydriasis during and after the eye exam. Under normal circumstances, the dilation process is regulated by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

However, the pupil size doesn’t only change due to the difference in light or when you get an exam. It can enter mydriasis as a result of excitement or emotional stress. This mechanism is attributed to the evolutionary fight-or-flight response. Your pupils open up so more light can come in, making you ready to react to a potential threat.

How Long Does the Dilation Last?

If your pupils get dilated due to excitement or stress, they usually revert to normal in a few minutes. But things are a bit different after an eye exam.

Doctors use different dilating eye drops, depending on the type of exam you need. After the exam, the eyes stay dilated for up to four hours or even longer. The dilation duration varies based on the specific type of eye drops your ophthalmologist uses and the color of your eyes.

In general, those with light-colored eyes could expect their pupils to stay dilated for up to 8 hours. On the other hand, the dilation period is much shorter for people who have dark-colored eyes. Regardless of the eye color, children often wake up with pupils wide open the morning after the visit to the doctor.

In some cases, the dilation eye drops can cause cycloplegia. This side effect induces a temporary paralysis of a special eye muscle, disabling you to focus on objects close by. It usually lasts for more than a few hours, but some people might struggle for a few days before their vision gets back to normal.

There are certain situations when a doctor intentionally induces cyclopedia. For example, children have a strong focusing apparatus which makes it difficult to do a proper eye exam. A doctor could deliberately induce cyclopedia to prevent focusing and measure the vision correctly.

In addition, cycloplegic drops might be used to treat some eye conditions or trauma. The inflammation of the eye’s middle layer (uveitis) is one such condition. In addition, pediatric ophthalmologists also prescribe the drops as a treatment for a lazy eye.

What Are the Side Effects?

Eye dilation doesn’t bring any long-term side effects. The short-term ones include blurry vision, heightened light sensitivity, and troubles with focusing. Some people might also experience a stinging sensation when the doctor puts in the drops.

People who use contact lenses might not be able to use them until the effects of dilation drops subside. This is bothersome, but it’s not something you cannot tolerate.

There are also a few things you can do to lessen the side effects.

Get a Helping Hand

Since your vision is going to be blurry and sensitive for some time, you should have someone around during and after the exam. It’s advisable to have someone drive you to and from the exam. However, there are people who feel comfortable driving with their pupils dilated.

Protect Your Eyes

Don’t forget to bring a pair of sunglasses since the sunlight could hurt your eyes after the exam. You can put them on as soon as you finish with the exam. Don’t hesitate to keep them on, even indoors, until you feel more comfortable.

Take Some Rest

You need to give your eyes at least a few hours to revert back to normal. If possible, take a day off from work and avoid straining your eyes. This means you shouldn’t read or use computers, tablet devices, or your smartphone. Watching television might be OK, but if your eyes start feeling strange, it’s better to play some music instead.

Keeping Your Eyes Healthy

You should have a comprehensive eye exam, dilation included, every few years. In the meantime, make sure your eyes stay as healthy as possible by making a few small lifestyle changes.

Proper Nutrition

Foods rich in zinc, lutein, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamins E and C help with your eyesight and prevent conditions like a cataract.

Your diet should include ample amounts of leafy greens, fish, beans, and nuts. Fresh citrus fruits are a rich source of vitamins. And don’t forget to add in some carrots since they are full of vitamin A and beta-carotene.

These foods also allow you to maintain a healthy weight, which minimizes the chances of type 2 diabetes, one of the main causes of adult blindness.


Sunglasses are great protection for your eyes, even when your pupils are not dilated. They guard you from the damaging UV rays which might cause macular degeneration and cataract.

It is best to pick up a pair that offers 99% or 100% UVB and UVA protection. Models with wraparound lenses provide side protection and polarized lenses minimize glare, which is quite helpful when you’re driving.

Stop Smoking

Smoking is one of the major reasons people develop eye conditions prematurely. This habit is likely to cause some serious damage to your optic nerve, so you need to kick it and don’t look back.

A Good Look Ahead

There is no universal answer to the question of how long do eyes stay dilated. In most cases, though, your pupils will stay open for a few hours after the exam. If they are dilated due to excitement, things go back to normal in just a few minutes.

Either way, you shouldn’t forget to keep your eyes healthy and regularly visit the ophthalmologist. A comprehensive dilation exam allows the doctor to diagnose problems early on. As a result, you’ll be able to receive proper treatment early on and prevent further damage.