If you’re experiencing vision problems or simply have some questions about eyecare, then consulting with an eye doctor is probably a good idea. But what’s the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist? Read below to find out which eye care professional is right for you.
Optometry is the practice of examining the eyes and applying any corrective measures that may be necessary for a given patient. An optometrist offers and provides primary vision care. Through their professional practice, an optometrist may provide vision testing vision testing, corrective vision treatment after making a particular diagnosis, overall management of an optical issue, and adherence to general eye care. Optometrists are trained, educated healthcare professionals. However, optometrists are not medical doctors and do not attend medical school.
After a total of at least seven years of higher education, four of which are designated to their specific practice, they become a doctor of optometry. Optometrists are licensed explicitly to practice optometry which includes eye exams, detecting eye abnormalities, prescribing treatments (contact lenses or eyeglasses) along with prescribing medications for certain cases of eye diseases.
Ophthalmology is a sect of medicine that concerns the study and treatment of certain eye diseases and disorders. An ophthalmologist has completed their college medical degree and has harbored at least eight years of experience in a professional medical background. An ophthalmologist can and is licensed to practice medicine and some can perform eye surgeries, such as cataract surgery. Under the advisory of an ophthalmologist, a patient can receive a diagnosis and treatment for any eye condition. One way to understand the role of an ophthalmologist is to consider their practice a thorough, more involved approach to eye care.
While the two are similar, there are some major differences. For one, the two practices have varying approaches. An optometrist is primarily concerned with vision and the potential corrective measures dealing with optic deficiencies like near-sightedness or far-sightedness. One instance where one may opt to see an optometrist versus an ophthalmologist is if you are having trouble with your vision while driving after dark.
For routine eye exams, you could consider an optometrist appointment over a visit to the ophthalmologist, though both an optometrist and ophthalmologist can prescribe corrective contact lenses or glasses. If you have concerns beyond optic clarity, you may consider consulting an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist is a trained, educated, and equipped medical doctor and is suitable not only for the study and care of the eye but an ophthalmologist can also address greater concerns beyond sight quality. With certain ophthalmologists, you can receive treatment for underlying eye conditions like glaucoma or cataracts, or have a family history of eye diseases.
You might also consider seeing an ophthalmologist instead of an optometrist if you are experiencing physical eye problems like bulging eyes, excess tearing, eyelid abnormalities, severe astigmatism, direct injury to the eye, or consistent redness of one or both eyes. If your vision is misaligned (known as adult strabismus), increasingly obscured, or distorted, you should consider seeing an ophthalmologist.
There are also other health conditions that cause vision trouble that call for an ophthalmologist consultation instead of an optometry exam, including high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, HIV/AIDS, thyroid disease-related eye problems (commonly called Graves disease), or if you have a family history of eye disease.
The bottom line? You might see an optometrist for a regular eye check-up or to get fitted for glasses or contact lenses—and you might visit an ophthalmologist to help address different eye diseases and disorders. If you’re still unsure, consider calling a physician or eye clinic for further clarity