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Eye Doctors: Optometrists and Ophthalmologists

There are two main types of eye doctors: ophthalmologists and optometrists. Confused about which is which and who does what? Here's an outline of the differences between eye doctors.

Ophthalmologist: Total Eye Care

Ophthalmologists are physicians. They went to medical school. After medical school, they had a one-year internship and a residency of three or more years.

Ophthalmologists offer complete eye care services. These include:

  • Vision services, including eye exams
  • Medical eye care -- for conditions such as glaucoma, iritis, and chemical burns
  • Surgical eye care -- for trauma, crossed eyes, cataracts, glaucoma, and other problems
  • Diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions related to other diseases, such as diabetes or arthritis
  • Plastic surgery -- for drooping eyelids and smoothing wrinkles

Optometrist (OD): Vision Care and Eye Care Services

Optometrists are medical professionals but not physicians. After college, they spent four years in a program and got a degree in optometry. Some optometrists undergo additional clinical training after optometry school. They focus on regular vision care and prescribe eyeglasses and contacts. Services include:

  • Vision services such as eye exams
  • Treatment of conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism
  • Prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses
  • Provide low vision aids and vision therapy
  • Diagnose eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and conjunctivitis
  • Prescribe medications for certain eye conditions (in some states)
  • Participate in pre- or post-operative care for people who need surgery

Optometrists and ophthalmologists may work together to take care of you.

Optician: Eyeglasses and Contact Lenses

Opticians are not eye doctors and cannot give eye exams. They get a one- or two-year degree, certificate, or diploma. They fill the prescription that your eye doctor gives you. Services include:

  • Evaluate lens prescriptions
  • Provide, adjust, and repair glasses, frames, and contact lenses
  • Take facial measurements
  • Help decide which type of lenses and frame will work best
  • Order and check products, including contact and eyeglass lenses

Choosing an Eye Doctor

When it comes to eye doctors, one type is not automatically better than the other. The right choice depends on your needs. The best eye doctor for you should:

  • Be recommended by your doctor, friends, or family
  • Be appropriate to your vision problems. If you need routine eyeglass/contact lens care you have many choices. If you have a specific medical eye condition, you may want to choose an ophthalmologist.
  • Be someone you like and trust

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on September 29, 2013

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