Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist? What kind of eye doctor should I see?

What Is an Optometrist?

An optometrist (Doctor of Optometry) is like a general practitioner but for your eyes. Although the exact services differ from practice to practice, optometrists provide a range of primary eye care services.

What Services & Treatments Can Optometrists Provide?

While all Optometrists are trained to provide primary care for your eyes, they are perhaps best known for their expertise in providing vision correction and care. These eye care clinicians are focused on optimizing your visual acuity and helping you manage and optimize your vision as it changes throughout your life.

When Should You See an Optometrist?

You can see your optometrist for most of your routine eye care needs. In fact, you should see them for a routine eye checkup every year or so just to ensure your eyesight is optimized, and your eyes are healthy. Many eye diseases develop with no symptoms, so an eye exam is vital for monitoring your eyes in general.

What Is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who undergoes advanced eye care training and is licensed to practice medicine and surgery. They are secondary-level eye care providers who often work with your optometrist.

When discussing the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist, it’s almost like comparing your family doctor with a cardiologist. You see your family doctor for regular appointments and general health problems. But if you have a heart condition and need more advanced care, you would see a cardiologist.

Ophthalmologists go through medical school and specialized ophthalmological training, and some choose to subspecialize in specific areas. Subspecialties usually require an additional year of focused training (called a Fellowship). They can be in areas like glaucoma, retinal conditions, pediatrics, neurology, plastic surgery, and more.

What Services & Treatments Can Ophthalmologists Provide?

An ophthalmologist can provide many of the same services an optometrist can, and many do actually provide complete eye care. Because many ophthalmologists subspecialize in certain areas, their additional medical and surgical training enables them to perform a wide range of surgical and interventional procedures.

Some services and treatments ophthalmologists can provide include:

  • Surgical eye care for cataracts, trauma, childhood eye conditions, glaucoma, and other issues
  • Interventional and surgical eye care for conditions like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and corneal disease
  • Plastic surgery to raise droopy eyelids or smooth wrinkles

When Should You See an Ophthalmologist?

Many ophthalmologists and optometrists work together to provide fully comprehensive eye care for their patients. You should see your optometrist for general eye care, including eye exams, vision correction, contacts, and spectacle interventions. For medical care of your eyes and ongoing management of chronic eye diseases and conditions, a medical optometrist is ideal for primary medical eye care. Should you need medical intervention or surgical care, your optometrist can refer you to an experienced ophthalmologist.

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