Differences Between an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist?

Are you attempting to choose a new eye doctor but aren’t sure if you should be seeking an optometrist or an ophthalmologist?  Both providers provide important services but knowing the differences will help you find the right provider for your needs.

What an Ophthalmologist Does

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor whose focus is on eye and vision health.  These doctors have completed a minimum of 8 years and can practice medicine as well as perform surgery.  An ophthalmologist can treat and diagnose all diseases of the eye, perform eye surgery, and can fit patients for glasses and contacts.

Many ophthalmologists have subspecialties, for which they have received additional education or training.  These subspecialists will often have specific areas of focus such as pediatrics, neurology, the cornea or retina, glaucoma, plastic surgery, and more.

You may see an ophthalmologist rather than an optometrist for a wide variety of circumstances including:

  • Bulging of one or both eyes
  • Decreased visual ability
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Distorted vision
  • Double vision
  • Excess tearing
  • Family history of eye disease
  • Halos within the field of vision
  • High blood pressure
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Injury to the eye
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Misaligned eyes
  • Pain in the eye
  • Thyroid disease-related eye problems

What an Optometrist Does

When you think of going to the eye doctor, an optometrist is likely what you think of if you do not have any underlying health conditions or eye disease.  One of the biggest defining differences between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist is that an optometrist is not a medical doctor. Instead, an optometrist is a Doctor of Optometry.  This is a degree that is awarded individuals who complete four years of optometry school.  These providers are licensed to practice optometry.  You’ll generally see an optometrist for needs including:

  • Annual eye exams
  • Annual vision screenings
  • Detection of eye abnormalities
  • Eye infections
  • Prescriptions for contacts and glasses

Find an Eye Care Provider Now

Now that you know the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist, you can get to work selecting a provider who will be able to provide you with the care that you need.  Remember, while vision appointments are easy to ignore, they are essential to your overall health and happiness.

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