What’s The Difference Between an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist?

Do you know that there is a difference between services offered by an optometrist vs. an ophthalmologist?

Many people assume that these titles refer to the same type of eye doctor. But there are specific differences between the specialties and services offered by optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Both play an essential role in caring for eye health and vision needs. However, the levels of expertise and training vary, depending on the type of service provider you are visiting.

Overview: Optometry vs. Ophthalmology

A simple explanation is that optometrists are primary care providers that take care of general needs, ranging from vision testing, corrective lenses, treating, and managing vision changes. Optometrists aren’t medical doctors, but they can treat minor eye conditions and diseases.

On the other hand, an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor with higher levels of training compared to an optometrist. An ophthalmologist can practice medicine and also perform eye procedures and surgical treatments.

Training and Services from an Optometrist

The educational requirements for an optometrist include undergraduate college, followed by four years of optometry school to complete a doctor of optometry (OD) degree.

This licensing allows optometrists to provide a variety of optometry services, such as:

  • Routine eye exams
  • Patient education about eye health
  • Performing vision tests and eye exams
  • Prescribing and providing vision correction lenses, such as glasses and contact lenses
  • Identifying and diagnosing certain eye conditions
  • Prescribing medications for minor eye diseases
  • Pre- and post-surgical eye care

While an optometrist doesn’t provide full-service surgical care, they are licensed to complete minor procedures in some states. For example, some optometrists can help with interventions such as removing a foreign body from the eye.

An optometrist is usually the first visit when someone needs eye care services. As a general eye doctor, your optometrist provides a range of services for the entire family.

Training and Services from an Ophthalmologist

When advanced eye care is needed, then you might be referred to visit with an ophthalmologist. After completing undergraduate college, an ophthalmologist continues a minimum of eight years of additional training and residency work.

Ophthalmologists have the specialty and licensing to help patients with:

  • Medical diagnosis and treatment
  • Eye surgery
  • Services for both internal and external eye diseases
  • Prescription and fitting for vision correction lenses
  • Rehabilitation after eye surgery.

Ophthalmologists can help with all types of eye conditions and problems. They can offer all basic services available through an optometrist, with additional treatments and services available as well.

Most ophthalmologists focus specifically on training and specialty services since it is their primary scope of care. They often partner with optometrists who provide basic eye care services for the patients.

Some doctors continue their training to become subspecialists, usually requiring an additional 1 – 2 years of fellowship. Then, the doctor focuses on patients with specific conditions, such as:

  • Pediatrics
  • Cornea
  • Glaucoma
  • Retina
  • And more

When an ophthalmologist completes this additional training, they have the knowledge and experience to address more complex or specific conditions. As a result, their services usually focus on a certain group of patients.

Surgical Treatments Available from an Ophthalmologist

If eye surgery is needed, an ophthalmologist can assist with the full scope of care that you require.

Available surgical treatments include:

  • Laser vision correction
  • Cataract treatment
  • Trauma treatments
  • Glaucoma treatments
  • Eyelid procedures to raise droopy skin

Opticians: Supporting Eye Doctors

Additionally, there is one more type of provider in the eye care industry: opticians.

Opticians act in a supportive role in an eye care office. They work alongside the optometrist or ophthalmologist to help patients with eyeglass fitting, contact lenses, and selecting other vision-correction products.

Training to become an optician is informal – an optician doesn’t need to have a specific degree. Often, opticians complete an associate’s program with 1 – 2 years of education. But some are trained on the job.

Responsibilities of an optician usually include:

  • Filling prescription requirements from an optometrist or ophthalmologist
  • Fitting, measuring, and adjusting eyeglasses
  • Assisting customers in choosing frames and contact lenses
  • Selling vision accessories
  • Supporting with general office duties, such as insurance billing

An optician offers most customer-service-related support in an eye care office. Also, these employees can assist with general eye care questions and adjust vision correction lenses. But they can’t help with examinations, diagnosis, or treatments.

Visiting the Right Eye Doctor at the Right Time

Your eye health is important, which is why it’s essential to make sure you are visiting the right eye doctor at the right time. In addition, learning the differences between eye care professionals can help you determine what type of appointment you need to make for yourself or a family member.

As a general rule of thumb, most eye care services start with a visit to an optometrist. Then, if the optometrist identifies anything that requires medical care or specialty services, the optometrist will refer you to visit an ophthalmologist.

In some cases, you might be referred by a primary care physician or another doctor to an ophthalmologist directly. If surgery or treatment is required beyond basic vision correction, then an ophthalmologist is the ideal provider.

How to Choose: Optician, Optometrist, Ophthalmologist

Here is a quick reference to help you decide what type of provider you should be talking to:

  • Optometrist: Routine eye care is needed, such as regular checkups, eye exams, or a new prescription for contact lenses and eyeglasses. Basic eye conditions can be treated by an optometrist, such as eye allergies or pink eye.
  • Ophthalmologist: If medical treatment is needed or a patient requires surgery, an ophthalmologist is a provider to call. An ophthalmologist can help with serious eye conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and eye surgery.
  • Optician: Patients don’t usually schedule appointments with opticians. Instead, these employees offer support when a patient comes to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Signs You Should See an Ophthalmologist Instead of an Optometrist

Most of the time, optometrists are sufficient for general eye care. But certain symptoms or conditions might require a complete medical eye exam from an ophthalmologist.

Here are a few risk factors and signs that you should book an appointment with an ophthalmologist instead of an optometrist:

  • Bulging (affecting one or both eyes)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Blocked vision
  • Temporary or permanent loss of vision
  • Double vision
  • Vision distortions
  • AIDS or HIV
  • Thyroid-related eye conditions
  • Eye pain
  • Eye misalignment
  • Eye injuries or accident
  • Loss of side (peripheral vision)
  • Family history of eye problems

Schedule an Appointment with an Eye Care Specialist

What type of eye care services do you need? If you don’t know which type of eye doctor to visit, then call our office, and we will guide you to the right provider. At EyesNY, we offer multiple locations for your convenience. So call our office to book an appointment.
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