Q: Why do you use dilating drops to dilate the pupils for an eye examination? 

A: Dilation of the pupils allows a detailed and complete view of the inside of the eye to check for disease. An eye examination can be done without dilation, but diagnosis of diseases like cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and retinal holes, tears or tumors is severely compromised, and many conditions could be missed. 

Dilation also temporarily stops the focusing of the eyes which is sometimes helpful in determining the correct glasses prescription, especially in children.

Q: I’ve heard some offices will use a machine to take a picture of the inside of the eye instead of dilating. Does that work as well?

A: It can be a good screening tool, especially in a young healthy person. It does not allow the same detailed view of the inside of the eye that dilation provides. It will not give the detailed 3D view that is needed for evaluating the optic nerve to check for glaucoma, seeing the entire lens to check for cataract, evaluating the vitreous to check for vitreous separation, or to look in detail for subtle early signs of diabetic retinopathy or an epiretinal membrane.

Q: What is the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist?

A: An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has spent several additonal years training to specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease. Most ophthalmologists are board certified and also perform surgery on the eye when necessary. Some ophthalmologists specialize in certain parts of the eye like the retina or cornea, or in certain eye diseases. Most ophthalmologists also perform routine eye examinations and prescribe glasses or contact lenses.

An optometrist is a doctor of optometry who examines patients in order to diagnose, treat, manage and prevent diseases and disorders of the eye and vision system and it’s related structures. Optometrists typically attend a 4 year program after college that specializes in the vision system and ocular pathology and includes clinical training. Depending on the state, many optometrists are also trained to treat medical eye conditions, but they don’t perform surgery. Most optometrists also perform routine eye examinations and prescribe glasses or contact lenses.

©  2019 David B. Scollin, O.D.