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What is the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?


Both an optometrist and an ophthalmologist are eye doctors that provide a variety of eye care services. Common services they provide include prescribing glasses and contacts, but both are also qualified to diagnose a variety of eye diseases and disorders and can perform testing or prescribe medications. The differences between them lie in the educational background and specializations of each profession.

Differences in Education and Specialization: Optometrist and Ophthalmologist

An optometrist has a doctorate of optometry and specializes in eye exams for both vision and health problems and in prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct refractive errors. Optometrists may also provide low vision care rehabilitation and vision therapy for those who can’t be fully treated by medical, surgical, or conventional eyewear.  Optometrists are also trained to treat a variety of medical conditions such as glaucoma and dry eye syndrome.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that specializes in eye and vision care. They complete four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school, and then spend a minimum of four years in residency or hospital-based training. They are trained to perform eye exams and diagnose and treat eye diseases but mostly are trained to perform eye surgery for both hospital surgeries and in-office surgeries.
optometrist, ophthalmologist

Should You Visit an Optometrist or an Ophthalmologist?

If your eyes are healthy and they don’t require specialized surgical treatment, choosing between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist is simply based on your preferences. Both an optometrist and ophthalmologist are trained to:

  • Perform routine eye exams
  • Detect, diagnose, and manage eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts
  • Prescribe medications to treat a variety of eye disorders

Some eye conditions may require an optometrist and ophthalmologist to work as a team to co-manage your condition. Your primary care eye doctor, usually an optometrist, will diagnose you and develop a treatment plan.  This treatment plan may contain different types of medications such as oral pills or drops.  If the medical condition cannot be managed with medications alone or is not able to be treated medically then referral to a specialist, who is usually an ophthalmologist, for surgical evaluation may be needed.  Once the specialist surgically treats your condition, your primary eye doctor or optometrist will continue to monitor and treat your condition.  This solution works well if you are pleased with the treatment from your current primary eye care doctor.

At Dittman Eyecare, our staff of expert optometrists is equipped to provide you with comprehensive vision care to keep your eyes healthy. Contact us today to schedule your eye exam.

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