Your eyesight is important. When it’s time to see a healthcare professional for your eyes, you need to make sure you visit the right one. Many people think that optometrists and ophthalmologists are essentially the same thing. In fact, the two types of healthcare professionals have different levels of training and specialization. Below is more information about the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist.
You’ll often find optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians working together in a practice. As a group, these professionals provide complete care for your eyes and ensure that you get the right diagnosis, prescriptions, and treatments.
Always Look for Qualified Professionals
You should always make sure that any healthcare professional you see is licensed by the state and certified by the correct certification board. You should see those licenses, education credentials and other information displayed prominently in their office. Never trust your precious eyesight to someone who isn’t fully qualified, trained and licensed.
How Do These Healthcare Professionals Differ?
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you’re probably familiar with getting an eye exam and ordering your lenses. You may even have seen that the person conducting your eye exam was a “Doctor of Optometry.” But what does that mean? And who is the person that checks those glasses and contact lenses to make sure that they’re all right?
The healthcare world can be confusing when it comes to titles and qualifications. This is especially true of healthcare professionals who work with your vision, because most of us only go see them for a yearly checkup or to get new glasses.
If you ever wondered what their titles meant, read on for the details. Here’s a rundown of the differences among these professionals.
What Is an Optometrist?
An optometrist is a trained healthcare professional who specializes in primary care of the eyes and visual system. An optometrist is usually the first person you see for regular, primary eye care. This eye doctor is known as an O.D. or Doctor of Optometry. An optometrist can treat and diagnose a wide variety of eye conditions. They can also prescribe corrective lenses and eye medications.
Education and Training
Optometrists complete four years of undergraduate classes followed by four years of optometry school. They then complete an additional year of specialized training. Optometrists go through very tough training. It is not easy to get into the field. Like medical school, optometry school is extremely competitive.
To get into optometry school, students need high undergraduate grades and a high score on the Optometry Admission Test. In order to obtain an O.D., they must also complete a rigorous three-part exam conducted by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.
Once they have passed this exam and complied with their state’s licensing requirements, they have the right to call themselves Doctors of Optometry. Optometrists can go into independent practice or work as part of an eye care practice.
Licensing and Credentials
Every state oversees licensing for optometrists and has its own standards for licensing. Optometrists must complete a high number of continuing education exams to keep their licenses active. These continuing education courses keep them up-to-date on advances in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders.
Conditions an Optometrist Can Treat
Optometrists can conduct vision tests and full eye exams. They can also prescribe contact lenses and glasses. Optometrists are typically the first healthcare professionals that people see for their eyes. As a result, optometrists are frequently the first to notice symptoms of eye disease or other visual abnormalities. In some cases, the optometrist can prescribe medications for certain medications. In others, the optometrist can refer patients to an ophthalmologist.
Optometrists typically provide the following diagnoses and treatments:
- Determine prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses.
- Diagnose vision problems, including farsightedness, nearsightedness and astigmatism.
- Diagnose eye strain.
- Test for glaucoma.
- Diagnose retinal detachment.
- Diagnose cataracts.
- Test for color blindness.
- Treat dry eyes.
- Treat pink eye and other eye infections.
- Prescribe medications and low-vision aids.
When to See an Optometrist
- You need a regular eye exam.
- You need a prescription for glasses or contact lenses.
- You’re having symptoms that bother you like flashing lights in your vision, dry eyes or excessive tearing.
- You need a vision test as part of a medical assessment.
- You’re suffering from eye strain.
- You have an eye infection.
- Your vision is blurry for an extended period of time.
- You want general or family eye care.
What Is an Ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diseases of the eye. Ophthalmologists are known as M.D.s or medical doctors. They can provide primary healthcare in addition to their specialization in the eye and visual systems. Most ophthalmologists are licensed to perform surgery.
Education and Training
Most ophthalmologists have had more than 10 years of medical training. An ophthalmologist completes four years of undergraduate training followed by eight years of medical school. Their medical training includes four to five years of residency.
During the final two years, an ophthalmologist specializes in studying eye diseases and conditions. Some ophthalmologists add a year or more of specialization in a specific area of the eye, like the retina or cornea.
Licensing and Credentials
Most ophthalmologists are certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABOP).
In most states, an ophthalmologist must be able to maintain an unrestricted medical license with their state medical licensing board. This license allows the holder to practice medicine without supervision. ABOP certification is separate from the medical license.
Once they obtain a medical degree, some ophthalmologists continue their education and training beyond that to focus on highly specific specialties in their field. These can include:
- Ocular oncology or cancer of the eye.
- Retinal diseases and surgery.
- Corneal diseases and surgery.
- Eye complications related to diabetes.
- Pediatric ophthalmology.
- Geriatric ophthalmology.
- Veterinary ophthalmology.
Conditions an Ophthalmologist Can Treat
An ophthalmologist can diagnose and treat the full range of eye diseases. In addition, he or she can perform surgery on the eyes. Some ophthalmologists conduct research into eye diseases and treatments. As medical doctors, they can also identify symptoms that point to an underlying medical condition.
Ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat:
- Uveitis or swelling of the eyes.
- Macular degeneration.
- Diabetic retinopathy.
- Tumors of the eye.
- Corneal and retinal damage.
Ophthalmologists can also:
- Perform complex eye surgery.
- Manage long-term eye diseases.
- Prescribe medications.
- Refer patients to other medical specialists.
When to See an Ophthalmologist
- You need long-term medical management of a chronic eye disease.
- You have a chronic illness that affects your eyesight.
- You want laser surgery to correct your vision.
- You have a damaged or diseased retina.
- You have a damaged or diseased cornea.
- You need surgery on any part of your eye.
What Is an Optician?
Opticians make sure that patients are comfortable with their new eyeglasses or contact lenses. An optician is an eye care professional who has received education or training to assist optometrists and ophthalmologists. Some states require opticians to have a state license.
Some opticians have an associate’s degree in ophthalmic dispensing. Others have had on-the-job training.
An optician can:
- Dispense contact lenses and glasses.
- Help patients find the right type and style of eyeglasses.
- Ensure that glasses fit correctly.
- Instruct patients on proper care of their eyeglasses and contact lenses.
- Notify patients when their glasses or contact lenses are ready.
- Adjust the tightness of eyeglass frames.
Q. What type of certification should these professionals have?
A. An optometrist should be certified by the state board of optometry. An ophthalmologist should be certified by the state medical board.
Q. Can an optometrist perform surgery?
A. Only three states allow optometrists to perform surgery. They are Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Louisiana. These states allow optometrists to perform laser surgeries. All other states only allow ophthalmologists to perform surgery.
Q. If I am getting laser surgery to correct my vision, should the doctor be an ophthalmologist?
A. Yes. Unless you live in the three states mentioned above, you should only have corrective laser surgery performed by an ophthalmologist.
Q. Can an ophthalmologist perform cosmetic surgery?
A. Yes. An ophthalmologist can perform cosmetic eyelid surgery. The ophthalmologist must have specialized training as an oculoplastic surgeon. Eyelid surgery requires a high level of skill. Be certain the doctor you choose is experienced and fully qualified to perform the surgery.
Q. If I am getting colored contacts for cosmetic purposes only, do I still need to see an eye doctor?
A. Wearing contact lenses always carries a risk of infection, scarring or corneal damage. You should never wear contact lenses without a doctor’s supervision. If you want colored lenses, you should talk to an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Keep Your Eyes Healthy
Your eyes are important. If you’re troubled by any symptoms or unexplained changes to your vision, make an appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as possible. If you have any questions about your eye health, these are the professionals who can help you.
With our dedicated team of experienced, caring eye care professionals, your eyes can look forward to many years of good health. Feel free to visit Southside Medical Center if you are interested in getting your eyes examined. We are conveniently located in Atlanta, GA. Contact us today to schedule your consultation!