Are you confused about which eye problems need to be seen by an optometrist vs. an ophthalmologist? To help clarify the answer to this common question, here is how I usually explain it to my patients. Just think of your optometrist as your family doctor, and your ophthalmologist as your surgeon. When we add opticians into the mix, it gets even more complicated. Imagine your optician as your pharmacist.
What is an Optometrist?
An optometrist, also known as a Doctor of Optometry, is usually required to have an undergraduate degree (4 years in university), and then 4 years of post-graduate doctoral training. A total of 8 years of post-secondary education.
About 20 years ago, optometrists were trained to diagnose and treat nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia with either glasses or contacts. With more current rigorous training and education in the optometric doctorate degree, optometrists are now also able to prescribe certain medications, as well as diagnose and treat a broad-range of medical conditions that impact the eyes, including glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, retinal diseases and ocular diseases from diabetes, hypertension and even brain tumors.
1. General adult/senior eye exams
2. Children Eye exams starting from the age of 6 months (children should have their eyes checked every year)
3. Diagnosis and basic treatment of eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy
4. Treating eye diseases by prescribing medications such as steroids, antibiotics, antivirals, etc…
5. Treat eye injuries and educate patient about eye injury prevention
6. Prescribing and fitting eyeglasses and contact lenses
7. Low vision (Decreased vision from diseases like macular degeneration or glaucoma)
8. Pre and Post-Operative care for eye surgery such as cataracts or laser corrective surgery
What is an ophthalmologist?
Even though optometrists and ophthalmologists both require a lot of education and training, there are differences between the two professions. They are usually required to complete their undergraduate degree. After that they will have to go into medical school and have 4 years of training for their doctor of medicine degree. When they become a licensed physician, they will undergo a residency to specialize in the eyes and that usually takes 3-4 extra years.
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who is specially trained to perform surgery and diagnose/treat more complex medical eye conditions
Most ophthalmologists are trained to perform refractions and detect eye diseases. However, most ophthalmologists leave the day-to-day vision services to the optometrist. They prefer to perform surgeries for cataracts, retinal repairs, glaucoma and etc.
What is an optician?
An optician’s education requires a high school diploma. They are also required to get a diploma from an optician’s program which ranges from 6 months to 2 years (the 2 year program includes fitting contact lenses), usually at a community college.Opticians specialize in filling the lens prescription provided by the eye doctor. The tasks of an optician may include
1. Evaluate the glasses prescription written by the doctor,
2. Dispense, repair, adjust, and replace eyeglass frames, lenses or contacts
3. Take proper measurements such as pupillary distance, seg height for single vision, bifocals or progressive glasses
4. Personal fashion and lifestyle recommendations for patient’s eyewear needs
Should I see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist?
For most day-to-day eye and vision needs, an optometrist will generally be your best choice. Optometrists usually have better appointment times and shorter wait times. If more serious eye health conditions are found by your optometrist, the optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist for that complex eye condition.
Vancouver Kerrisdale Optometrist
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