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Is It Better to Go to an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist?

When it comes to eye care, there are different kinds of professionals with the skills and training to handle eye problems for you. You’ve likely heard about optometrists and ophthalmologists. Like most people, you may not understand the difference, if any, between these two kinds of eye specialists. Ophthalmologists are eye doctors in the traditional sense of the word. They’ve gone to a conventional medical school and specialized in eye care as a branch of advanced medicine. Optometrists are eye care professionals with a rather different kind of training. However, they can treat most eye conditions. For example, Albany’s best optometrist can provide an individualized eye care plan to address your vision problems.

What is an Optometrist and What They Do

It helps to think of an optometrist as your primary health care doctor, the only difference being that they focus exclusively on eye care. When you develop any eye or vision problems, an optometrist is the first person to see.

To become an optometrist, one must enroll in the postgraduate optometry program after doing their undergraduate degree. Ideally, this undergraduate degree should be in natural sciences or any such related subject. In some special situations, an individual can enroll in the optometry program through some select college undergraduate courses.

The optometry program prepares individuals for providing professional eye care through:

  1. i) Offering training in basic and advanced eye care techniques
  2. ii) Additional training in some courses like pharmacology, optics, and any relevant natural science courses

iii) Offering training in client history taking and studying additional case studies

Additionally, a trainee will go through a full-time teaching program as a resident. This is to ensure that they have the hands-on skills and experience needed to manage eye problems later on. This full-time teaching program tends to be in the final year or two of the optometry program. After completing this program, a trainee is awarded the doctor of optometry (OD) degree.

What They Do

An optometrist performs everything you’d expect of a regular eye care professional. They can provide the following services:

  1. i) Routine diagnosis of eye conditions like short-sightedness
  2. ii) Performing an eye exam as part of a general medical exam. They also offer eye health education

iii) Prescribing visual aids like contact lenses and eyeglasses

  1. iv) Providing medical treatment for a variety of eye conditions. Such treatments may include minor surgical procedures.
  2. iv) Post-surgical eye care

Depending on the jurisdiction in which an optometrist practices, they may be permitted to prescribe medications for certain eye conditions. Similarly, they may also be permitted to perform certain surgical procedures as part of eye care. Such procedures may include laser eye surgery or the removal of foreign objects lodged in the eye.

An Ophthalmologist and What They Do

In its simplest form, an ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in treating medical conditions of the eye.

Like any other doctor, an ophthalmologist begins their journey at a medical school. Once they’ve completed the undergraduate program and gotten a doctor of medicine (MD) degree, they can then begin a residency program in ophthalmology. Depending on the school, this ophthalmology residency program can take anywhere from 3 to 7 years to complete.

During residency, an ophthalmologist-in-training can expect to acquire the following skills and knowledge:

  1. i) An extensive training in eye disease subspecialties
  2. ii) Diagnosis and proper management of a wide array of eye diseases and conditions

iii) A thorough training in all forms of ophthalmic surgical procedures and techniques

A trainee can expect a lot of hands-on training during this period. They’ll perform many operations under the supervision of an experienced ophthalmologist to better hone their skills.

What They Do

An ophthalmologist can do everything that an optometrist can do and more. You can expect the following services when you visit an ophthalmologist:

  1. i) Routine eye care and everything associated with basic optometric services
  2. ii) Performing complicated surgical eye procedures. These may include surgical treatment of cataracts, glaucoma, and numerous other conditions.

iii) Postoperative eye care and any other rehabilitation services associated with eye surgery

Given the extensive training that ophthalmologists receive, most of them base their practice on the surgical management aspect of eye care.

Which One Should You See?

If you suddenly develop visual problems, an optometrist should be your first port of call. It helps to think of an optometrist as a general physician– one that focuses exclusively on the management of primary eye conditions. For example, if you have dry eyes or problems seeing far objects, a visit to an optometrist can usually address this problem.

Ophthalmologists have much more comprehensive training in the management of complicated eye conditions. When your optometrist fails to address your visual and eye problems, seeing an ophthalmologist becomes the next logical option. In many settings, ophthalmologists and optometrists work hand-in-hand for the proper eye care needed by a patient. In many private practices, it’s not uncommon to find both an ophthalmologist and optometrist on the staff. This ensures that a patient that comes in for routine eye conditions can quickly be managed by an ophthalmologist should an optometrist choose to refer them for specialist care.

In some jurisdictions, an optometrist is licensed to carry out most of the surgical procedures performed by an ophthalmologist. In such places, seeing an optometrist is almost always the ideal choice unless the eye condition gets worse.

Getting treated for an eye condition by an optometrist is also cheaper. Given that ophthalmologists are specialists, it’s more expensive to see them compared to seeing an optometrist.

For the average person, an optometrist should be the first choice. Only when the optometrist has failed to resolve one’s eye problems should the services of an ophthalmologist be sought.

What about Opticians?

Opticians are also eye care professionals. Unlike ophthalmologists and optometrists, they do not perform eye tests and administer eye treatments because they do not have the required training. Opticians merely use the prescriptions written by an ophthalmologist to issue glasses on contact lenses.

All in all, an optometrist is a go-to person for any eye condition. An ophthalmologist should only come in for much more complicated eye issues.