Optometrist vs ophthalmologist: what is the difference?


Optometrists and ophthalmologists are optometrists, but they have different backgrounds and areas of expertise. If you have vision problems or general eye health, it is important that you consult a healthcare professional who is suitable for your job.

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  • Vision tests

  • Comprehensive eye exam

  • Diagnosis of some eye diseases.

  • Prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses

  • Minor surgical procedures


  • Everything Optometrists Can Do

  • Medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases.

  • Rehabilitation after eye surgery


Optometrists investigate, diagnose, treat, and monitor diseases and disorders of the eye. Unlike ophthalmologists, an optometrist does not have a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree, but rather a Doctor of Optometry (DO). To obtain this qualification, optometrists first receive a pre-professional bachelor's degree and then four years of professional education at a college of optometry with additional residency to specialize in a specific field.

Conditions treated by optometrists

While optometrists are probably best known for getting routine eye exams to help patients resolve any vision problems and get a prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses, they do much more.

While optometrists certainly have the ability to perform standard eye exams, they generally perform a comprehensive eye exam , which involves more than just reading random letters on a poster in a room. These exams are also essential for assessing the health of a patient's eyes and ocular tissues, as well as for detecting various conditions, such as glaucoma.

Additionally, examinations performed by optometrists during a comprehensive exam can help identify previously undiagnosed conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. Or, if an optometrist knows, for example, that a patient has diabetes, they can closely monitor how the condition might affect a person's eye health.

Optometrists can also evaluate a person's eye injury, although in more severe cases, they can refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for necessary treatment.

Procedures offered by optometrists

While all optometrists can prescribe glasses, contact lenses, and other visual aids, most of their practice is governed by state law. For example, in some states, optometrists can prescribe medications, while others cannot. In addition, optometrists perform some minor surgical procedures to correct or treat vision or eye health problems that are also defined by state law.

Optometrists also offer non-surgical therapies, such as vision therapy and rehabilitation for the visually impaired. Another part of the job is preoperative and postoperative care for patients undergoing eye surgery, such as examining the eyes the day after the procedure to make sure everything looks the way it should .

If the patient has more serious eye problems or requires additional surgery or intervention, the optometrist will refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for further examination and / or treatment.

Equipment used by optometrists

Given the wide range of tasks that optometrists perform and the treatment procedures they offer, they require several different types of equipment . Many are also used by ophthalmologists who are qualified to perform any examinations and treatments that an optometrist may perform, in addition to others (which we will discuss below). The team of optometrists includes :

  • Examination chair
  • Retinal camera
  • Phoropter (an instrument used to measure refractive errors and determine eyeglass prescriptions)
  • Indirect binocular ophthalmoscope (an instrument used to examine the internal structures of the eye, which is placed on the head of an optometrist)
  • Hand-held keratometer (used to determine how flat or steep the cornea is)
  • Autorefractor (a machine used to measure a person's refractive error and determine the prescription for glasses or contact lenses)
  • Slit lamp (an attached light microscope used to examine the cornea, iris, and lens)
  • Tonometer (used to measure pressure in the eye)
  • Lenosmeter (used to measure the strength of an existing lens)
  • Retinoscope (used to illuminate the patient's eye so that the doctor can see the reflection of the retina)
  • Direct ophthalmoscope (used to examine the internal structures of the eye)

Visit an optometrist if you need …

  • Vision test or test
  • Comprehensive eye exam
  • Evaluation of eye injuries
  • Follow-up after eye surgery


Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MD) who diagnose and treat all eye conditions, perform eye surgeries, and prescribe glasses and contact lenses.

To become an ophthalmologist and obtain a license in medicine and surgery, a person must complete a four-year bachelor's degree, a four-year medical school degree, followed by a one-year mandatory internship, and a three-year residency in surgery. clinic. with one or two or more years of internship.

Conditions that ophthalmologists treat

Ophthalmologists are trained and qualified to treat any eye condition or injury, including :

  • waterfalls
  • Glaucoma
  • Farsightedness
  • Myopia
  • Astigmatism
  • Strabismus (strabismus)
  • Optic nerve disease
  • Systemic neurological diseases with visual manifestations.
  • Retinal detachments
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Systemic or inflammatory diseases of the retina and vitreous body.
  • Pediatric eye disorders

Treatment and equipment

In addition to being able to prescribe glasses and contact lenses, ophthalmologists also have the right to prescribe any appropriate medication for patients. And while cataract surgery and basic glaucoma surgery are the two most common procedures that ophthalmologists perform, they also perform the necessary operations for all of the conditions listed above.

Likewise, ophthalmologists use the same equipment as optometrists (described above), with the addition of any surgical instruments or instruments necessary for eye surgery.

Specializations for ophthalmologists

Some ophthalmologists choose to take an additional year or two of training to specialize in a specific aspect of eye health. These narrow specialties include:

  • Glaucoma – Medications, lasers, and surgery are used to lower pressure in the eye.
  • Retina : diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the retina, including macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease; Surgically repairs the torn and detached retina and treats vitreous problems.
  • Cornea : diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the cornea of the eye, including Fuchs' dystrophy and keratoconus ; perform refractive surgery (for example, LASIK) and corneal transplant ; heals corneal injuries; Copes with complex contact lens fitting.
  • Pediatrics – Diagnoses and treats eye misalignments, uncorrected refractive errors, and differences in vision between the two eyes, as well as other childhood eye diseases and conditions.
  • Neurology – diagnoses and treats vision problems related to the way the eyes interact with the brain, nerves, and muscles.
  • Oculoplastic surgery : repairs damage or problems in the eyelids, bones and other structures around the eyeball, as well as in the tear drainage system.

Visit an ophthalmologist if you need …

  • Medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases.
  • Rehabilitation or follow-up care after eye surgery.
  • Vision and eye health exam.
  • Eye medications
  • Evaluation of eye injuries

Choosing the right ophthalmologist

After reading about what optometrists and ophthalmologists do, you may not know which specialist to go to for help. If you have vision problems and think you might need glasses or contact lenses, an optometrist is a good option. Make sure to get a complete eye exam while you're there. If anything comes up that worries the optometrist, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist for further examination and / or treatment.

If you have an eye problem that requires surgery, have an eye condition, or have another health problem that also affects your eyes, it is recommended that you see an ophthalmologist. Also, if you haven't had a comprehensive eye exam with expanded vision in your 40s, it's time to schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist as part of your regular medical check-ups, even if you haven't. I think you have eye or vision problems.

When you visit an optometrist or ophthalmologist, you can count on the standard type of customer service that you will receive from any other doctor or healthcare professional. And, as with any health care, the cost of visiting an optometrist and ophthalmologist depends on factors such as your health insurance, as well as what the particular practice or facility charges.

Both types of ophthalmologists will tell you if you need to come back for your follow-up appointments or if you need any treatment.

What does an optician do?

Trained opticians:

  • Development, testing and installation of lenses and frames for glasses, contact lenses and other vision correction devices.

Opticians are not required to have higher education or training and are not allowed to:

  • Write recipes
  • Vision test
  • Diagnose or treat eye diseases.

Get the word of drug information

Eye health is much more than an eye test and a prescription for glasses or contact lenses, if necessary. Of course, this part is really important because many people need assistive devices to have functional vision. But when it comes to more serious eye health problems, or anything that requires surgery, an ophthalmologist is your best option.

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