Choosing an Eye Doctor when you have a Vision Problem

Are you having trouble seeing at a distance? Do you have trouble reading small print or other material at near? Do your eyes itch, burn, tear or get red? Perhaps you are not sure which doctor to go see and would like guidance in Choosing an Eye Doctor.

Choosing an Eye Doctor for a vision problem can be confusing since there are a number of eye specialists. You want to learn the difference between the three O’s: Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, and Optician.

The Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the eyes during his Residency training.

Some ophthalmologists specialize further by doing Fellowships in such areas as:

  • Glaucoma Management
  • Corneal Diseases
  • Retina
  • Neuro-ophthalmology
  • Oculoplastics
  • A general Ophthalmologist routinely performs surgical procedures such as Cataract Extraction with Intraocular Implant. Some may specialize in Refractive Surgery.

    For highly specialized surgical procedures like Glaucoma Bleb Surgery, Corneal Transplant, Retinal Detachment repair, Optic Nerve Decompression, or Lid Ptosis repair, you want to see a specialized Ophthalmologist from the list above.

    In general, Ophthalmologists provide secondary or tertiary care (that is, higher level or specialized care for Eye Diseases that require surgery). They also provide medical management of Eye Diseases via the prescription of medications.

    The next eye specialist is the Optometrist who is a doctor of Optometry. This doctorate is earned from an accredited four-year postgraduate school of Optometry. Optometrists are generally primary eye care providers; i.e., they provide the initial care of patients. However, some Optometrists do provide higher level specialty care.

    Optometrists may also complete Residency programs and specialize in such areas as:

  • Contact Lenses
  • Low Vision
  • Vision Therapy
  • Eye Diseases
  • The Optician is a licensed technician who primarily works in laboratories that grind and fit lenses into eyeglass frames. However, some Opticians work for Ophthalmologists and/or Optometrists and do the Eye Refraction Exam and even Contact Lens fittings (if they are so qualified and licensed) for patients.

    Opticians are not doctors or eye specialists. They do not engage in direct patient care unless licensed and trained to do so.

    Now that you are equipped with the knowledge of the differences between the three O’s, it will be easier Choosing an Eye Doctor. If you have a vision problem and have never had your eyes checked before, an Optometrist can give you a comprehensive, initial Eye Exam.

    Optometrists can prescribe eyeglasses and/or fit you with Contact Lenses to correct your vision. They can recommend eye exercises for such Eye Problems as Crossed Eyes or focusing difficulties.

    Choosing an Eye Doctor when you have an Eye Problem or Eye Disease

    If you develop an Eye Infection, Uveitis, Eye Allergies, or Dry Eyes, an Optometrist is qualified to manage these and many more Eye Diseases and Eye Problems. As a matter of fact, if you develop a red eye, a trip to the emergency room is not a good idea since the cost is much higher and the doctor on call will not have the specialized equipment an Optometrist has.

    If the level of care that you need falls outside of the Optometrist’s scope of practice, he or she may refer you to another Optometrist or Ophthalmologist for secondary or tertiary care.

    All surgical consults will be referred to an Ophthalmologist since Optometrists do not perform surgery except for minor procedures like removal of embedded foreign body material (such as metal or glass) from the Cornea, Lid or Conjunctiva of the eye and the removal of lashes.


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