Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist
One of the most confusing parts of vision and eye care for vast majority of patients is understanding the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists. Add opticians into the mix and people become even more confused. So figuring out where you should start when it comes to vision care and eye health can be tricky. Fortunately, once you understand the differences between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist, it’s pretty easy to know where you should go, when, and for what. There is considerable overlap in certain areas between the two, but there are also several striking differences. Though they are both trained in eye care, ophthalmologists and optometrists are extremely different from one another.
Traditionally, Optometrists (also known as O.D.s or Doctors of Optometry) were trained to diagnose and treat vision conditions like farsightedness, nearsightedness and astigmatism, as well as fit and prescribe contact lenses and prescription eyeglass lenses. A large part of their job was (and still is) to perform “refractions”, or vision correction exams. However, over the past 20 years, optometry training has become much more medically-oriented than in the past, and optometrists now receive rigorous and comprehensive training in not just optics and refractions, but also the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease, as well as other systemic conditions that can effect vision and eye health.
Although optometrists are not M.D.s, most current optometrists can prescribe certain medications, as well as diagnose and treat a broad-range of medical conditions that impact the eye, including glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, retinal disease and ocular disorders associated with diabetes and high blood pressure.
In fact, it’s not unusual for a skilled optometrist to be the first health care professional to spot developing systemic conditions like diabetes during routine eye exams.
Their duties include:
- Providing primary vision care and management of vision
- Prescribing appropriate medication
- Diagnosing and treating a broad range of medical conditions, such as glaucoma and cataracts
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (M.D.) that specializes in the eye. While the training between ophthalmologists and optometrists is now very similar (especially around ocular disease diagnosis and treatment,) there are some marked differences between the two.
First, ophthalmologists are trained to perform surgery, which optometrists are not. This includes things like Lasik vision correction as well as removal of cataracts, or surgery related to eye trauma, burns or detachments of retina.
Second, ophthalmologists have additional specialized training in diagnosing and treating more complex medical eye conditions. So it is not unusual for optometrists and ophthalmologists to work closely-together on hard-to-diagnose conditions or ongoing disease treatment and management.
Third, as M.D.s, ophthalmologists are allowed to prescribe a broader-range of prescription drugs than optometrists.
Their duties include:
- Surgical procedures, such as vision correction and cataract removal
- How to prevent and identify adverse reactions to medications
- How medications interact
Choosing an eye doctor is an important health care decision. After all, you will be trusting your eye doctor to safeguard your precious sense of sight and help you maintain a lifetime of good vision. The first step in your decision is to understand that there are two types of eye doctors: optometrists and ophthalmologists. Make sure you choose the right one depending on your symptoms and a lifelong vision is guaranteed.