What Not To Do After Eye Dilation

What Not To Do After Eye Dilation

Having your eyes dilated is important but it doesn't have to ruin your day. The dilation will affect your vision in some fashion and this can limit what you are able to perform until the dilation wears off.

After dilation, there aren’t necessarily any activities that you CAN’T do, but there are activities that you MAY NOT want to do. This includes working, reading, driving or being out in the sunlight. However, it all depends on how dilation affects your eyes.

There are two primary ways dilation affects our vision. But how much it affects us is different for everyone.

Dilation can make your vision blurry

Dilation will make your pupil bigger (ie dilating your pupil). This allows in more light and makes everything brighter. But there are certain dilating drops which also affect the lens inside our eye.

The lens inside our eye is involved in focusing. When you are young, this lens is able to focus up close for you (when wearing your glasses or contact lenses if needed). A small muscle just behind the iris or colored part of our eye called the ciliary body controls this lens.

When we look up close, this ciliary body muscle contracts; the lens inside our eye bends it’s shape to focus up close. When we look off in the distance, this muscle relaxes restoring our lens to it’s “default" shape.

How the eye focuses up close

How the eye focuses up close; image by MikeRun, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But during dilation, a commonly used dilating drop temporarily prevents this muscle from working. The lens cannot change shape to focus up close and for most people after dilation, everything up close becomes blurry.

But there is another group of individuals in which this lens is focusing pretty much all the time. These individuals have a farsighted prescription. In normal times, they don’t really notice that they have a farsighted prescription since their natural lens focuses through this prescription.

But this farsighted prescription becomes evident when their eyes are dilated. When this lens loses its ability to focus due to dilating drops, all of sudden their distance vision becomes blurry as well.

Dilation will make everything bright

Our iris regulates how much light our eye receives. When light shines in the eye, the iris constricts and our pupil becomes smaller to limit how much light enters our eye.

Light isn’t harmful to our eye (unless you are staring at very concentrated light such as a laser or the sun). But excess light can 1) be really annoying and cause a headache and 2) start to blur details and limit what we can see.

When our eye is dilated, it will allow in much more light. The iris temporarily can’t constrict and limit the size of our pupil. This excess light can limit what we can see or what we can tolerate to see.

What you MAY NOT WANT to do after dilation

Everyone responds to dilation differently:

  • As mentioned, farsighted individuals will have much more blurred vision.
  • Individuals with light-colored irises can experience much more dilation and have a greater sensitivity to light afterwards.
  • Some individuals may not dilate much at all and have little extra brightness. Having a history of diabetes or even taking medications such as flomax may put you in this category.

Because of these differences, there are no universal things you CAN’T do after dilation. Unlike other situations where everyone will have some effect (such as taking medication that can make you drowsy), what you can and can't do after dilation really needs to be adjusted to how your eyes respond afterwards.

You MAY NOT WANT to go back to work or study

Dilation will affect your up close vision. But this only applies if your vision is fully corrected with glasses and contact lenses (or if you have perfect vision without needing glasses or contact lenses). After being dilated, you will have a harder time working on a computer or reading out of a textbook. You more than likely will want to postpone those activities until the following day after the dilation wears off.

But of course, there are exceptions:

Some people are naturally nearsighted. If they take off their glasses and contact lenses, they can see up close just fine. They just have a hard time seeing off in the distance. Naturally nearsighted individuals don’t need to use their natural lens to see up close (until they put on their glasses and correct their vision for distance). Thus, when the eyes of nearsighted individuals are dilated, if they want to see up close, they just simply take off their glasses or take out their contact lenses.

Some people don’t normally have any up close vision. They already use bifocals or progressive lenses to see up close. This occurs naturally for everyone in a process called presbyopia starting in the mid-forties. Because they have a hard time seeing up close with or without dilation and use correction anyway, the blurred up close vision from dilation won’t affect them all that much.

You MAY NOT WANT to go outside

While you are waiting for your eyes to dilate, you will notice that the exam room can start to appear brighter. Dilation allows excess indoor light into your eyes. But if you think that the indoors is bright, you are in for a world of hurt when you go outdoors. Everything will be extremely bright outdoors.

Yes, you can throw on sunglasses when you go outdoors. This will cut down on all that light entering your eyes. But sometimes even sunglasses can’t do the trick. After dilation, it’s best not to plan many outdoor activities. They just may not be pleasant activities for you.

But once again, some people will be fine outdoors. After you’ve been dilated once, you get an idea for how you respond to bright lights.

You MAY NOT WANT to drive

If you vision becomes blurry from dilation, you SHOULD NOT drive. Remember the farsighted individuals? This applies to them. Unless they have glasses which can correct their vision, the dilation may cause their vision to be too blurry to drive.

But even if your vision still technically meets the criteria for driving (which surprisingly can be quite lax), driving still comes down to comfort level. If you do not feel comfortable to drive, you SHOULD NOT drive.

You may have only a slight blur from dilation. You may have some extra brightness that is making it harder to see. But if those affect your comfort level for driving, those are enough. You simply don't want to be taking that short term risk and putting yourself and others in danger.

This first time your eyes are dilated, plan on coming with a driver. You just simply won’t know for sure how you respond to dilation until it actually happens. And if it doesn’t affect you a whole lot, than you know for the future times you visit your eye doctor. But staying safe is the most important goal.


After dilation, many things can become challenging for you. Working on computer or reading, going outside and driving can all be more difficult. It may still be possible for you to perform all of those activities safely; dilation affects everyone differently. But don’t plan on it until you know for sure how you respond to dilation.

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