When to go to an ophthalmologist vs. an optometrist

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When to go to an ophthalmologist vs. an optometrist

What’s the difference between an ophthalmologist and optometrist? Both types of eye care providers have different training and areas of expertise, so understanding what each does will help you decide whether you should consult an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical or osteopathic doctor licensed to practice medicine. He or she can treat eye diseases, perform eye surgery, and prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Some ophthalmologists may also conduct research related to eye diseases and disorders.

An ophthalmologist must complete four years of medical school, a one-year internship and a minimum three years of residency. Many, but not all, ophthalmologists are board-certified, according to the AAO.

In addition, an ophthalmologist may spend one to two years training in a subspecialty, such as corneal surgery, glaucoma or pediatric ophthalmology.

What is an optometrist?
In contrast, an optometrist is a health care professional but not a medical doctor. He or she provides primary eye care, including vision testing and correction, and the diagnosis, treatment and management of vision changes.

After earning an undergraduate degree, potential optometrists must complete four years of optometry school. Optometrists receive a doctor of optometry degree and are licensed by individual states to conduct eye exams, prescribe and dispense corrective lenses, diagnose certain eye abnormalities and prescribe medications for certain eye diseases. Some optometrists also complete an optional residency in a specific practice area.

An optometrist can handle all medical aspects of ophthalmology, but can’t perform surgery, said Dr. Scott Wagenberg, an ophthalmologist in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. “Optometrists often specialize in difficult contact lens fittings and may be the best for that type of examination.”

“Optometrists will refer to ophthalmologists for any difficult medical conditions, such as uncontrolled eye infections, medically unmanageable glaucoma, cataract surgery, corneal transplants or retinal problems,” Wagenberg said.

What is an optician?
And what is an optician’s role in all of this? An optician fits glasses but doesn’t conduct eye exams or treat vision problems. An optician strictly makes sure your glasses fit properly.

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