What are the Differences Between an Ophthalmologist and Optometrist?

14 million people in America suffer from some variety of vision impairment. This varies from mild conditions through to medical emergencies.

And treatment of vision disorders cost around $139 billion each year.

Fortunately, there is lots of amazing help at hand. If you suffer from any sort of vision impairment an Ophthalmologist and Optometrist can help you get the treatment you need. And this can have a huge positive impact on your quality of life.

But you also need to make sure you’re seeing the right kind of eye doctor. Ophthalmologists and Optometrists can only help with certain elements of eye care.

So what is the difference between an Ophthalmologist and an Optometrist? Read on to find out everything you need to know!

What Is an Optometrist? 

Optometrists hold a Doctor of Optometry, or OD, degree.

Optometry involves measuring and monitoring eyesight. This means they can detect vision or health problems through examinations. Often eye diseases are symptomless so it’s important to get checked regularly.

They treat some of these conditions by prescribing corrective glasses or contact lenses.

State legal guidelines dictate the lenses or medication that an Optometrist can prescribe. So there is a limit to the type of vision therapy they can provide. This means they will only be able to help with certain types of vision impairment.

The majority of Optometrists do not have licenses to perform corrective surgery. However, they will often help with any pre- or post-operative care. In this way, Ophthalmologists and optometrists often have a collaborative working relationship.

To qualify as an Optometrist, you undertake a four-year degree program studying sciences. You follow this up with a four-year post-graduate course at an Optometry school. So any qualified Optometrist has definitely put the work in! 

All Optometrists have to continue their educational development to maintain their licence. This means they are always up-to-date with the current standards of eye care.

What Is an Ophthalmologist? 

An Ophthalmologist can also prescribe glasses and lenses for vision impairment conditions. However, their training allows them to go further in their treatment that optometrists. 

They can either by medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO.) This means they have access to a wider range of treatment options than Optometrists. This includes performing eye surgery.

And this also means they can treat more complex vision impairments. These impairments include:

However, they can also prescribe non-surgical treatments.

They also have to have extensive training to qualify. On top of a four-year degree and four years at medical school, they have to complete a year-long internship. Finally, they have to perform a residency in a hospital’s Ophthalmology department.

This extra training means they can receive proper training to perform surgical interventions. Like Optometrists, an Ophthalmologist continues updating their medical training to meet guidelines.

Picking Between an Ophthalmologist and Optometrist

As you’ve probably gathered by now, these two types of eye doctors can offer you quite different treatments. So when you’re deciding between an Ophthalmologist vs Optometrist you need to consider a few things.

The first thing is why you want to see them. If something about your vision concerns you then these are good people to turn to.

They will be able to conduct an eye examination to determine what is wrong. And they can then figure out the best course of treatment. 

If you already have an idea of what’s wrong this can help you decide which doctor to visit. You can base this on the type of treatment you might need. If you have a medical history of vision impairments this could help you decide who to see.

But you might not be sure what’s wrong. That’s alright too. After all, you’re not the one with eight or so years of training under your belt!

Fortunately, both an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist can conduct an examination. And their training means either type of doctor will be able to diagnose the problem.

In this case, it might be best to see an Optometrist first. Unless you think you will need more complicated interventions. An Optometrist will refer you to an Ophthalmologist if they can’t treat your condition.

Other things that you might consider is how accessible appointments are. For example, there might not be as many Ophthalmologists in your area. Or appointments might be hard to come by. 

An Optometrist can often offer you more flexibility with appointments. So it might be easier to get an appointment with them.

Check out eye specialists’ websites for a list of doctors and their specialties. Remember that O.D. means they’re an Optometrist. And M.D. means they’re an Ophthalmologist.

When to See an Optometrist

Optometrists can help you with a range of different eye problems. So they’re a great port of call if you need medical assistance. 

They can help address a lot of common eye conditions. This includes dry eye or infections. Your Optometrist should be able to prescribe an effective treatment.

Often seeing an Optometrist means you can get your problem sorted fairly quickly. You can see an Optometrist for any of the following:

  • For an eye examination or vision test
  • To help correct conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism
  • For prescription glasses or contact lenses
  • For vision therapy
  • For access to low-vision aids
  • If you have concerns about any eye diseases, disorders or injuries. They will be able to help diagnose and advise on treatment. They may be able to treat mild infections or disorders.

If they are unable to help you then they will refer you to a specialist. This could be a fellow Optometrist or it could be an Ophthalmologist.

Your referral will depend on the type of eye condition and the type of treatment you require.

When to See an Ophthalmologist

An Ophthalmologist can offer you a wider range of treatment options. This includes eye surgery or laser eye surgery. 

But not all conditions require this. For example, an Optometrist might be able to treat some forms of glaucoma without surgical intervention. 

And it’s often a good idea to avoid surgery if you can. This can be expensive. It also comes with longer recovery periods which can be disruptive.

Nevertheless, sometimes surgery is necessary. And some Optometrists can only prescribe certain treatments. State laws imposed on them dictate what they can and can’t prescribe.

Because Ophthalmologists train for longer, they have access to a wider range of medical treatments. You can see an Ophthalmologist for any of the following: 

  • For an eye examination or vision test.
  • To treat conditions that require medical intervention. Examples of these include glaucoma, iritis or chemical burns.
  • To treat conditions that require surgical intervention. This includes cataracts, glaucoma, eye trauma or crossed eyes.
  • To diagnose and treat eye conditions that relate to other on-going diseases. This includes diabetes or arthritis.
  • For cosmetic eye surgery including wrinkle reduction or corrective laser surgery.

If you see an Ophthalmologist you will often also see an Optometrist at some point. They will work together to ensure you have the best care before and after any surgical treatment.

How Do They Differ From an Optician?

Opticians are not anywhere near as qualified as Optometrists or ophthalmologists. And this means they can’t offer you the same level of support, diagnosis or treatment.

They are often the first eye specialist people think of. So it might surprise you to find out that they aren’t actually eye doctors.

You can become an Optician after studying a one- or two-year degree. Some people even qualify using diplomas or certificates.

But they’re still an important part of your eye-care regiment. They fill out the prescription that your eye doctor decides you need. And they ensure that you can use your glasses or contact lenses effectively. 

They will ensure you receive the correct prescriptions across your corrective vision products. They will also help you figure out which types of lenses or frames work best for you. This ensures your comfort when using them.

They can measure and adjust glasses frames to fit you perfectly. Or make repairs if you damage them.

If you find your lenses or glasses aren’t working for you an optician is a good person to speak to. They can discuss alternative products with you. And they can order more in if you find something that works for you.

Other Things to Consider When Choosing Your Eye Doctor

When comparing an Ophthalmologist and Optometrist their job isn’t the only thing you have to think about. Other practical aspects might help you choose who is right for you. 

Location is another practical but important consideration. This is especially true if you need to have surgery.

So you need to make sure you’re near to wherever you’ll be recovering. That way you don’t have to ask a friend or family member to drive for hours to come and pick you up.

It’s also important to check out which hospitals or facilities different doctors have access to. Some doctors have privileges at certain hospitals. Finding out what these are could also help you to make your decision.

If you have medical insurance, you’ll need to ensure they cover you for the type of treatment you need. Some doctors charge higher fees than others. This makes them far less popular with insurance companies!

Finally, it’s important to remember that every individual doctor is different. And you should take this into consideration when choosing any kind of doctor.

Do your research into their training and professional history. Testimonials are a sure fire way to get an idea of how they work. Most importantly, make sure they get results before you let them anywhere near your eyes. 

The Bottom Line

So now you know the difference between an Ophthalmologist and Optometrist. They’re both highly-trained eye doctors who will be able to help you get the most effective treatment for your eye conditions. We are fortunate to have top-quality Ophthalmologists and Optometrists at Magruder Eye Institute.

But which one you should see depends on the type of treatment you need. Fortunately for you, a visit to either will set you on the right track for treatment.

To find out more about all your eye care needs, check out our blog today. Or get in touch with any questions about treatment options. We’re here to help!

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