Choosing an Eye Doctor: What You Need to Know


Selecting an eye doctor is a crucial health care decision. Remember, you’ll be trusting your eye care professional to take care of your sense of sight to maintain a healthy vision.

First, it is important to know that there are two categories of eye doctors: ophthalmologists and optometrists. There is also the opticians.

What is an Optometrist

This is an eye care professional who has the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Their role is to examine eyes for health issues and vision and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct refractive errors. Some can also provide vision therapy and low vision care.

Optometrists in the US can prescribe medications to correct some eye diseases and problems. The state determines the scope of medical care that optometrists can provide.

The role of a consultant optometrist can also include participating in pre- and post-operative care if a patient has undergone eye surgery by an ophthalmologist. Keep in mind that optometrists in the United States are neither trained nor licensed to do eye surgery.

To qualify as an optometrist, one must complete a college degree program and post-graduate professional training in optometry. Both courses take four years.

Just like ophthalmologists, optometrists should adhere to ongoing education requirements to stay up-to-date with the current eye care standards and maintain their license.

What is an Ophthalmologist?

This is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. An ophthalmologist performs eye exams, diagnose, as well as treat disease. They are also trained to prescribe medications and perform eye surgery. What’s more, they can prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Generally, ophthalmologists undergo four years of college training, four years in medical school, and a one-year internship. They are also based in an ophthalmology residency for at least three years.

What is an Optician?

While opticians are not eye doctors, they are an essential part of an eye care team. They follow prescriptions from optometrists or ophthalmologists to fit and sell eyeglasses as well as other eyewear.

Some states require opticians to undergo an opticianry training program. Other states, however, do not require opticians to have formal training or be licensed. After completing a certification program, opticians can fit contact glasses in some states.

Should You Visit an Optometrist or an ophthalmologist?

The type of doctor you see for routine eye care when your eyes don’t need specialized care is a matter of personal choice.

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists perform routine eye checkups. Also, both of them can detect, diagnose, and treat eye diseases that need medical or non-medical care.

If you have an underlying medical eye problem, for instance, macular degeneration or glaucoma, it is advisable to see a highly trained doctor who is skilled in dealing with those types of conditions.

Most often, medical care or surgical care from a highly trained and skilled ophthalmologist will be required.

Optometrists can provide treatment for common eye issues like eye infection and dry eyes as well as chronic eye diseases, for instance, glaucoma. However, you’ll need care from an ophthalmologist for some eye disorders, especially if you need surgery or other special care.

What is Co-Management?

Some eye problems will require optometrists and ophthalmologists to work together as a team in an arrangement known as co-management.

When it comes to co-management, an optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist for further diagnosis and treatment. The ophthalmologist will decide whether you need medical treatment, eye surgery or both.

When the ophthalmologist has controlled the situation, they will send you back to an optometrist who will continue to monitor you and take care of you based on the specialist’s recommendations.

Co-management works well if you’re happy with your primary doctor, but you need special care from a more experienced eye doctor.

Other Factors to Consider When Choosing an Eye Doctor

When seeking to know about the services provided by an eye doctor, it is important to inquire about what will happen if a detected problem requires care and treatment beyond their scope of care. Who will they refer you to and where are they situated?

You can know a doctor’s expertise by looking at their professional affiliations as well as memberships. For instance, the American Academy for Optometry, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons or even the American Society of Retina Specialists.

And lastly, you should also consider recommendations from family members, friends, and coworkers. You can find a competent, friendly, and caring eye doctor by paying attention to word-of-mouth referrals. This way, you can avoid unpleasant situations when you go for an eye examination.


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