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Having eye drops

Why are eye drops needed?

Eye drops are needed to dilate (enlarge) your child’s pupil (the central black part of the eye) so the optometrist (ophthalmic optician) or doctor (ophthalmologist) can see through the pupil and examine the back of the eye.

Are there any alternatives?

There are no alternatives to eye drops. Eye drops are the only effective way of dilating the pupil.

What kind of drops will be used?

The drops that are used to make the pupil large are called dilating drops and as some children’s eyes are more sensitive then others, these may sting for a few seconds. The stinging can be alleviated by asking the child to blink rapidly.

Sometimes local anaesthetic (numbing) drops may be used first to numb the surface of the eye. Numbing drops can feel cold and may sting a little when they are put in.

What effects do the eye drops have?

Blurred vision

The dilating drops affect the child’s ability to focus and will cause blurred vision for around 4 to 5 hours, but can be longer. Any activity which requires hand eye co-ordination will be difficult such as writing, colouring, eating.

Depth perception

The ability to judge depth will also be affected. Until the vision returns to normal, activities such as climbing, running, cycling and skating should be avoided. Steps, stairs and kerbs will also be difficult to judge so your child may easily trip and fall. They will need close supervision until their vision returns to normal.

Sensitivity to light

The dilating drops also prevent the pupil from controlling the amount of light that enters the eye so bright lights may be uncomfortable. Wearing sunglasses or a peaked hat to shade the eyes may help the discomfort. If the child refuses to wear sunglasses or a hat there is no need to worry as the light will not cause damage to the eyes.
For small babies, putting the hood up on the pushchair will be helpful as will shading the eyes with a blanket if they seem to be bothered by the bright lights. The light sensitivity will last for as long as the pupil remains large which can be up to 24 hours, although the vision often returns to normal more quickly.

Other side effects

The effect of numbing drops on the eyes may also reach the back of the mouth and throat. It is therefore wise that your child does not have hot food or hot drinks for 30 minutes after the numbing drops have been put in.

Your child should be discouraged from rubbing their eyes after having eye drops put in.

Occasionally some children may have an allergic reaction to the eye drops and the eyes may become red and sore. Please inform the nurse if you think this has occurred.

How can I help prepare my child for having eye drops?

It is vitally important that you adopt a positive approach when preparing your child to have eye drops. If you are negative in any way this may affect how your child co-operates when having drops. The staff will work with you to make having eye drops as easy as possible and will advise you on the technique used. It is usual for drops to be put into both eyes even if there only appears to be a problem with one as both eyes will be examined by the doctor or optometrist.

One method of putting in eye drops is for the child to lie down on your lap or cradled in your arms. They will be asked to close their eyes and the drops will be put on the eyelashes at the inner corner of the eye. After a few seconds the child will be asked to blink the eye drops in themselves.

Another method is for the child to sit upright and keep still for a few seconds whilst looking upwards. The nurse will gently pull the lower eyelid down a little and put the drops into the eye.

Babies drops are put in whilst you cradle the baby in your arms.

How long do the drops take to work?

Once the dilating drops have been put in it will take 20 to 40 minutes for the full effects to be achieved. You do not have to stay in the eye department whilst waiting for the drops to work. If you wish to leave the department the nurse will give you a time to return for the next part of the eye examination.

Should my child return to school after the eye test?

If your child’s teacher is happy to provide the necessary supervision to make sure they are safe, then they can return to school or attend nursery after having eye drops. However, they should not take part in PE and games lessons until the blurred vision has worn off completely.

Can my child go to sports classes after?

Again, this would depend on individual teachers accepting responsibility for your child while their vision is still blurred.

Can my child go swimming later?

Because of the dangers of water, it would probably be wise not to go swimming unless you are totally happy about the level of supervision provided.

Can my child go to a party later?

This would depend on the type of party and the level of adult supervision. It is recommended that children do not use climbing frames until their vision returns to normal.

A final decision regarding activities after having eye drops in is probably best made just before the time of the event weighing up all the risks of the possibility of your child hurting themselves.

Contact us

If you have any worries or concerns please contact the eye department on 0114 271 7468 or seek medical advice. If your child becomes unwell, please contact your family doctor or emergency services

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Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: EYE5

Resource Type: Article

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