What Causes Dilated Pupils? (It’s Not Always Love)

loveBig pupils were always associated with attraction, but not everyone believes it. In truth, yes, the eyes and love are in fact connected. A dimly lit room casts a romantic aura, and the darkened environment allows our pupils to enlarge, which can be a subconscious signal of stimulation, attraction, and readiness for love.

Although in some cases, love is the cause behind dilated pupils, there are other medical explanations for the phenomenon.

Why Your Pupils Become Bigger

The black circle in the center of each eye is your pupil, the opening that allows light to enter so you can see. The muscles in the colored part of your eye, known as the iris, is what controls the size of your pupil. Depending on the amount of light surrounding you, your pupils get bigger or smaller. In low light, your pupils enlarge or dilate to let in more light. When it’s bright, they constrict to let less light in.

Sometimes, your pupils can dilate regardless if you’re in a dark or bright environment. Medicines and injuries can cause these dilations.

Using Prescription Medication and Illegal Drugs

Some medicines can affect the muscles that control your pupils and prevent them from shrinking back to normal size. These medicines include:

Prescriptions aside, dilated pupils could also be a sign that someone has used illegal drugs, such as:

  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • Amphetamines
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide

These illegal drugs significantly affect the muscle that widens the pupil, slowing down its ability to react to light. People exposed to such substances have dilated eyes even when exposed to bright lights. Even withdrawal from these drugs can leave lingering effects that retain the appearance of wide-open eyes.

Suffering a Head Injury

The pressure that builds inside your brain after a head injury can damage the muscles in your iris, which is what makes your pupils enlarge and shrink back to average size. One or both of your pupils can become fixated in the dilated position, meaning it cannot react to light. If that happens, you need to see a doctor immediately.

Aftermath of an Eye Injury

Injury to the eye such as blunt force trauma can severely damage the nerves or muscles in your iris that controls your pupil size. Dilated pupils can also occur after eye surgeries such as cataract removal or corneal transplant.

Benign Episodic Unilateral Mydriasis

This condition means only one pupil is dilated. It is labeled “benign” because it’s not related to any serious eye conditions, but it can sometimes affect young women who experience migraines. The pupil usually goes back to average size within a few hours, but it can also last for several days.

When to visit Arizona Retinal Specialists

Drop by our locations to get an eye exam if your enlarged pupils retain an abnormally large appearance under bright lights, especially if one pupil is bigger than the other. You may also contact us at 623-474-3937 (EYES) to schedule an appointment.


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