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Ophthalmologists and Optometrists

There are two main branches of eye care: optometry and ophthalmology. While optometrists are responsible for giving eye examinations and can administer basic eye care treatments, ophthalmologists are more involved with eye surgeries and diseases. Ophthalmologists are more specialized than optometrists. They are considered medically trained surgical specialists, and are responsible for performing advanced procedures and operations on the eyes.

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists are trained to prescribe vision aids such as eyeglasses or contact lenses, although most patients go to an optometrist for basic vision correction needs. If a patient requires surgery or treatment of advanced ocular diseases, an optometrist will refer them to an ophthalmologist.

The academic backgrounds of optometrist and ophthalmologists also separate the two professions. Optometrists are given the title of Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) after 4 years of college and 4 years of optometry schooling. On the other hand, ophthalmologists are considered Medical Doctors (M.D.) or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) after completing college, medical school, as well as 4-6 years of post-graduate training in ophthalmology.

Both professions require participation in continuing education courses in order to stay informed of current trends, technologies, and developments within the field. Many eye care professionals are required to attend these courses in order to maintain or renew their medical licenses.

A patient may see an optometrist for:

  • Routine eye examinations intended to diagnose common conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, or macular generation.
  • A diagnosis of overall health conditions that could be affecting the eyes, such as diabetes.
  • To get prescribed glasses or contact lenses for basic vision correction.

A patient may see an ophthalmologist for:

  • Treatment of glaucoma and other eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve by increasing intraocular pressure.
  • Management and treatment of cornea, ocular surface, and external eye conditions and diseases.
  • All other types of ocular surgeries or advanced procedures.

If you are unsure of which type of specialist you need, simply call your local certified eye care specialist. An optometrist or ophthalmologist is able to tell you what type of care you need and recommend an eye care specialist that is appropriate for your needs.  

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