Do I have to have eye drops Mommy?

Posted on June 04, 2017

Do I have to have eye drops Mommy?

By: Jeffrey Colburn, MD

Let’s be honest, no one is really that fond of eye drops. For children, getting dilating eye drops can often be the most stressful part of the visit to the eye doctor. This is probably our equivalent of shots as far as the kids are concerned. So this raises the question, is it really necessary that my child gets eye drops?

Dilating the pupils is an important part of a comprehensive eye examination in children. By opening up the pupil wide and using special equipment, we can get a 3-dimensional view of the inside parts of the eye to check for any abnormalities. But even more important than that for most children, it allows us to get the most accurate eye glasses check possible. Children have a much stronger focusing ability than adults do and can easily lead the eye doctor astray when checking glasses numbers. Dilating the pupil temporarily paralyzes the focusing muscle so that we can be sure on our eye glass measurements. For this reason, children typically get stronger dilating eye drops than adults do, which is why their eyes may stay blurry for up to 24 hours after the drops.

For these reasons, you should expect your pediatric ophthalmologist to recommend a dilated eye exam for your child upon your first visit with them and then roughly once a year thereafter depending on the situation. These exams do take longer as we have to wait about 30 minutes for the drops to take full effect before finishing the eye exam. The whole visit could take anywhere from 1-2 hours, so plan accordingly.

We are careful never to tell children that the eye drops won’t hurt. They can sting briefly and we don’t ever want to mislead a child. If at all possible we try to put in numbing eye drops first which sting less and then make the dilating eye drops much easier. The doctor’s assistants will usually put the eye drops in and may request the assistance of the parents to do so. The goal is to get the eye drops in as quickly and gently as possible and move on to more fun things.

In general, we would recommend not making a big deal of discussing the eye drops in advance of the appointment. Though we are not wanting to ambush the child, we do find that spending a lot of time talking and thinking about it in advance usually increases their anxiety level greatly. Also, trying to talk them into it or bargaining usually just drags out the anxiety longer. Best to just get it over with quickly and move on. Although we certainly trust parents’ knowledge and judgment with regards to how their own children react, we still wanted to share our recommendations from experience over time.