What Is Cyclopentolate?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Cyclopentolate is a medication an ophthalmologist may use to dilate a patient's pupils before an eye examination. Doctors can dilate a patient's pupils to examine the eyes and perform focus tests for the purpose of assessing eye health or diagnosing disease. Patients are unlikely to encounter this medication outside an examining room, and it may not be in stock at pharmacies unless a doctor has placed an order ahead of time.

This drug takes about 15 to 30 minutes to dilate the pupil, and it will remain effective for 24 hours, although usually patients are able to contract their eyes before the 24 hour period is over. While the pupil is dilated, the patient will be extremely sensitive to bright light, and it will also be difficult to focus because the muscles of the eye are partially paralyzed and cannot adjust to accommodate the need to focus.

After an eye exam where the doctor uses cyclopentolate, she may provide a temporary pair of sunglasses to shield the eyes. It is advisable to wear these in bright conditions for the first 12 hours to protect the eyes from sun damage. Patients also should not drive or operate heavy machinery, as they cannot focus enough to spot potential hazards and may experience disorientation because of their light sensitivity. Tasks requiring tight focus, like jeweling, are also difficult to do while this medication is working its way through the body.


Some patients experience adverse reactions to cyclopentolate. They will develop eye pain, blurry vision, and a rapid pulse shortly after the doctor administers the drug. If patients feel disoriented or dizzy they should report these symptoms, as they can be a warning sign of a bad reaction. Children and older adults can be especially sensitive to cyclopentolate, and the doctor may adjust the dosage for these patients to reduce the risk of a severe reaction.

Certain conditions are contraindications for cyclopentolate administration. Patients with any kind of brain trauma may react badly, as may patients with Down syndrome or spastic paralysis. It is also not advisable to take this medication while undergoing treatment for glaucoma. These conditions should be discussed with an ophthalmologist prior to an eye exam to determine the most appropriate medication to use for a pupil dilation test. Patients may also want to bring up a recent history of neurological disease, as the doctor may have concerns about other conditions involving the central nervous system, like multiple sclerosis or seizure disorders.


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