Why does everything look amazing after eye exams?
November 16, 2021 7:50 PM   Subscribe

My last two eye exams were on beautiful fall days. Each time I got dilating eye drops. The first time when I left the eye doctor the sky was so blue it vibrated. The yellow trees were brighter. The red trees looked backlit like the brightest setting on your computer, but large as life. The red brick buildings GLOWED. The world was so changed I thought I was high.

The second exam the light was so bright it hurt my eyes, as they warned me, but the sky wasn't as blue because it just wasn't as blue that day, but the reds and pinks were just as fluorescent and if I had felt better that day I would have had an even better time because I found a street with more beautiful red trees to walk down and piles of bright bright red leaves on the ground. I noticed pink roses and some girl's pink sweatsuit being fluorescent as well.

It's just different from the sun being too bright. With eyedrops the colors are supernaturally bright. It doesn't make any difference if I close one eye or the other. I am wondering if other people experience this or if I have a weird brain or something. I never heard of people looking forward to getting their eyes dilated, and in the past I never noticed the colors, but then again maybe it wasn't a beautiful day to start with.
posted by serena15221 to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
Those dilating eyedrops contain belladonna. Perhaps you're more sensitive to it than most?
posted by transitional procedures at 10:04 PM on November 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Here is a study that didn't find any difference in visual contrast for atropine vs no atropine. So the opposite of what you're looking for (though they only got a 0.1 mg dosage and you might get a bit more than that at your appointment).

I've never particularly noticed anything other than "halp! it's too durn bright!" but it is at least possible that your eye normally adjusts to the brightest thing or things within your visual field (sorta). That leaves the things that are lower in brightness a bit on the dim side, which can be perceived as, less vibrant in color.

So when you are high on atropine, the very brightest things are now too bright, but some things that were previously a little too dim to be perceived at their most vibrant, are now boosted up into the sweet spot for visual vibrancy.

I could easily see this as making something like a red-leafed, backlit trees look a lot more vibrant. Reds & pinks seeming fluorescent seems more of a stretch, though.
posted by flug at 12:18 AM on November 17, 2021

Hmm, here is a more comprehensive theory based on this article.

First, atropine causes your eye to dilate and its lens to thicken, potentially creating thin, colorful fringes around bright, colorful objects that you might well notice.

The first part of this is that atropine causes your eye to dilate, bringing more of the eye's lens into play. That is to say, when it's bright out your eye usually constricts, leaving only a very small hole - a "pinhole," so to speak - for the light to pass through.

But with atropine your eye dilates, opening to its full 4-6mm size. So now the light is going through a significantly larger lens.

The second ingredient is that atropine thickens up the human eye lens (see info in the article linked above).

Putting both of those effects together, so now we are looking at the scene through a lens that is both much larger and somewhat thicker than usual.

Point is: Larger, thicker lenses lead to more chromatic dispersion, meaning that the different wavelengths of light focus at slightly different points.

What you perceive visually from this effect is highly colored "fringes," particularly around very strongly colored and bright objects. LEDS, with their strong and pure light, are notorious for this.

Those of us with strong/thick glasses see this type of fringe all the time, and sometimes it is quite wide, bright, and overall striking.

With only a very widely dilated eye causing the fringes (ie, your situation), the fringes would be pretty thin. But they are very striking in color because they are quite pure colors and this could add to the "fluorescent" type effect you are noticing with strong colors. Also the enhancement this gives to edges can enhance your visual perception of the object, because we're very attuned to edges. Everything has a bright, thin, colorful, vibrant fringe around it that is not usually there.

Explanation of chromatic aberration (explanation for photographers, but the exact same phenomenon happens with every lens, including those in your eyes), example photo.

Second - and possible much simpler and more significant - atropine thickens your eye's lens and that has the effect of shortening the eye's focal length at bit. Perhaps this brings distant, colorful objects into sharp focus for you, when ordinarily they are just a little out of focus.

Per the article:
In the current experiment, atropine-injected eyes showed a significant increase in lens thickness under luminance conditions compared with fellow eyes . . . Lens thickening causes light rays to converge in front of the retina, bringing the image into focus for a smaller eye, but also potentially creating a myopic defocus . . .
In plain English, atropine changes your eye's focus just slightly. If you eyes are perfect without atropine that might put them slightly out of focus.

But if your eyes are just slightly out of focus without the atropine - perhaps not out of focus enough to require corrective lenses, or a change in prescription, but just slightly, enough to make everything at a distance just the slightest touch fuzzy - then adding the atropine just might bring everything exactly into focus for you.

(And: If atropine shortens your focus up slightly, and your eye doctor always tests your vision with atropine, the correction you get might be perfectly calibrated for your eyes on atropine and just a little bit off for your normal non-atropine eyes.)

And I think that could very well explain a lot of what you are seeing, if not all of it.

FWIW I have noticed this effect myself. A common thing optometrists do as we develop presbyopia (loss of ability to focus the eyes) in our 40s-50s is give people a glasses prescription that is slightly too weak. That makes things at a distance just slightly out focus but makes it easier to bring things close in (computers, books) into better focus.

OK, great, I get this is practical, but I HATE it.

I like to go outside and see things. Clearly - not fuzzily.

When I finally got a pair of glasses with the "real" correct, completely-in-focus-at-a-distance prescription for my eyes and went outside, everything did in fact look a lot more vibrant as you describe.

I love to wear that pair of glasses because everything just looks better.

I wouldn't describe the effect in quite the strong terms you do, but it is very definitely noticeable and definitely better and more vibrant.
posted by flug at 1:01 AM on November 17, 2021 [11 favorites]

In addition to the physics of vision that flug describes, atropine does cross the blood brain barrier and can induce hallucinations. The dose you get in dilating eye drops is pretty low, but that shimmery fluorescent glow sounds a little trippy to me.

Red light has the longest wavelength of the visible spectrum, which may explain why it's happening most with reds and pinks and less with blues. In essence, it's the opposite of the red desaturation that accompanies disease of the optic nerve. Your optic nerve and visual cortex are buzzing with delight.
posted by basalganglia at 1:32 AM on November 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I wanted to chime in without an answer but with a similar phenomenon. I have adhd and have a prescription for Adderall to manage symptoms. When I am off Adderall, I have this exact effect you describe. And it’s not that I am just noticing colors more because I’m unmedicated and unfocused. Colors. Are. More. Vibrant. I’ve played with this a bit, even described in a voice memo since it’s hard to remember the specifics of the effect when medicated. (I sounded high. Just the effect was so darn strong and I’m usually medicated, so is not the norm)

Here is where it might be relevant, in a backwards way. I am fairly certain that this is how I perceived the world prior to adhd diagnosis and medication- I spent time as a digital designer and I was always drawing inspiration from the vivid colors in the world. I would mentally catalog color palettes, as well as photographing them. I almost immediately notice these palettes again when the world appears brighter. It just happens I don’t notice what isn’t there, because being medicated is my baseline now, but notice quickly when it is back because it’s novel.

Adderall has known effects on vision, including blurry vision. I suspect, somehow, this is playing a role, especially after reading flug’s description of focus and how that could play a role in seeing colors more vividly.

I really would describe the brightness of colors in the world when unmedicated almost verbatim to what you have, thus my reason for commenting, wondering if it’s a similar underlying mechanism.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:36 AM on November 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Guys, atropine is NOT what is used to dilate your eyes at the eye doctor. It has a duration of action of 1-2 weeks.

That said, higher-order aberration would not be an unreasonable explanation for what OP is describing.
posted by aquamvidam at 7:38 AM on November 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had minor untreated/ not really noticed dry eye for years, so pretty much any eye drop I got at an optometrist improved my vision slightly, maybe because it temporarily improved my tear film? You can figure out if this is part of what you're experiencing by trying nonprescription eye drops.
posted by metasarah at 7:38 AM on November 17, 2021

Not the same, but just adding because it was an unexpected effect: I went over the aspects of my chronic illness the last time I needed dilation at the ophthalmologist and he decided to use tropicamide drops. While I was waiting for them to work, first my feet started to feel funny, and then my whole body began to feel loopy and loose as if I'd taken muscle relaxant, which tropicamide is, I suppose. It also seemed to have an anxiolytic effect. I asked if anybody ever mentioned those effects and both the assistant and ophthalmologist said no. I chalked it up to approximately the four-millionth-some Weird Thing About My Body. I wasn't surprised something odd happened, and I also wasn't surprised nobody else had mentioned it.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:41 AM on November 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Does this also happen if you use thick (gel) eyedrops?
posted by Acari at 11:50 AM on November 17, 2021

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