When it comes to eye problems, everyone knows that they need to consult with a specialist. Often the most confusing part is, which one do we go to? Whether it’s a routine check up, or experiencing vision problems, a simple online search can leave one scratching the head and staring at dozens of options ranging from optometrists to ophthalmologists.

Read on to find out more about the three O’s of eye care: optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians.

Optometrists vs Ophthalmologists

Optometrists and ophthalmologist differ in a number of ways. The important areas of difference are explained below.

1. Education

At the end of the day, a major chunk of the difference comes down to education. An optometrist is not a medical doctor. They receive a doctor of optometry (OD) degree upon completion of four years of optometry school, preceded by three years or more years of college.

On the other hand, an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (Eye M.D.). They are quite different from optometrist when it comes to levels of training and education. They practice after completing college and at least eight years of additional medical training. Many go for additional, more complex training called fellowship to become ‘sub-specialists’ in any of the eye-related areas such as retina, glaucoma, cornea and surgery.

2. Surgery

An optometrist cannot perform eye surgery. Being healthcare professionals, they can nevertheless provide basic eye care including sight testing, diagnosis, sight correction, treatment, and general ocular management. In fact, in some areas, optometrists can deliver better results such as prescribing contact and eyeglass lenses due to the extent of exposure they get vis-à-vis such cases.

Ophthalmologists are licensed to practice medicine and surgery; their expertise encompasses the whole range of vision-related treatment. They are better positioned to diagnose complex sight problems as against optometrists and their overall ability to examine, diagnose and correct vision problems is far more superior to other eye care professionals.

3. Performing Research

This is another area of difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists. The former’s ability to perform research is restricted by their qualification.

On the flip side, ophthalmologists help to sustain, innovate and advance ophthalmology as a field of medicine by performing research into causes and treatment for eye diseases and disorders.

How to choose the right eye doctor?

Your decision whether to consult an ophthalmologist or an optometrist may be influenced by many factors such as the severity of the visual distortion, budget constraints, incorrect diagnosis etc. What we need is a proper classification of preferences to ease out your decision of consulting either of the two professionals. Following are those specific instances and preferences:

1. General eye examinations

Either ophthalmologists or optometrists may conduct an examination of your eyes. Infants and above 40-year-old’s need a comprehensive eye exam on a regular basis, even if there might not be an apparent need for the same.

2. Prescriptions

Both can prescribe eyeglasses, contact lens and medications, as long as the issues are not so severe. In the case of glaucoma or CSR diagnosis, medications have to be prescribed by the ophthalmologist.

3. Surgeries

Only ophthalmologists are licensed to perform surgeries. Even in the case of laser or plastic surgery, an eye doctor is the right choice. Surgical eye care is an entirely different ballgame and therefore, choosing the right doctor should be a well-planned process.

4. Contact lens fitting

Optometrists are better when it comes to prescribing, designing and fitting eyeglasses and contact lenses. This type of examination requires more practice and exposure rather than qualification, and optometrists no doubt amass more experience in this area throughout their careers.

5. Critical eye conditions

If you suspect serious eye condition, such as severe macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, CSR or glaucoma, your first priority ought to set an appointment with an ophthalmologist. 

A good eye doctor will help point you in the right direction if you need to see a different doctor or a specialist. Ultimately, the best thing for your eye health is having regular exams and take steps to protect your vision. Find the nearest eye doctor and book an appointment online with HealthEngine to get started.