Whether you’re updating your prescription, getting a new pair of glasses, or being treated for an eye disease like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, there’s a different eye care professional for each. There are two types of eye doctors, optometrists and ophthalmologists, and one other ‘O’ in the world of eye care professionals: Opticians who are not doctors but are trained to assist you with the selection of optical frames and lenses. In order to receive the proper treatment, it’s helpful to know the difference between each of these three ‘O’s in eye care.
Your optometrist is the eye doctor you see for your annual comprehensive eye exam, contact lens fitting, eye infections, or most other optics-related concerns. After receiving their bachelor’s, an optometrist attends four years of optometry school where they specialize in the eyes and visual system. They also study general physiology, including diseases that affect more than just your vision, in order to better understand how different parts of the body can impact the health of your eyes. Once they complete optometry school, they receive an optometry degree (OD).
An optometrist is able to treat and manage eye infections and certain eye diseases, fit contact lenses, prescribe glasses, and remove foreign bodies from the eye. Depending on the state in which they practice, an optometrist’s scope of care will vary. This means that in some states they can do injections and use lasers in addition to treating things like glaucoma and other acute or chronic conditions. In general, optometrists are primary care physicians (as classified by Medicare) and can write you an eyewear prescription and prescribe certain eye medications. An optometrist cannot perform eye surgery.
Opticians are not doctors but they play a very important role in eye care. Opticians are trained eye care professionals who help you fill the eyewear prescription written by your optometrist. They can recommend the best lens material and coatings for your lifestyle and strength of prescription and ensure you choose a pair of frames that flatter your face-type and personal style. Opticians will also check the fit of your frames, from the temples (the arms that wrap around your ears) to the bridge and lens width.
Depending on the state, an optician may be required to complete an opticianry training program and obtain a license. Here in California, opticians receive extensive on-the-job training, often side by side with an optometrist, in order to provide the best care possible.
An ophthalmologist attends traditional medical school and then goes on to specialize in treatment and management of eye disease and surgery, depending on their chosen specialty (retina, cataract, cornea, etc). This type of eye doctor is a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are trained to diagnose and treat disease, prescribe medications, and perform eye surgery. They can also perform eye exams and write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Who Should You See?
Unless you’re diagnosed with an eye disease, a serious visual injury or complex vision issue that needs to be monitored and treated by an ophthalmologist, your annual eye exam will be with an optometrist. In general, here’s how the three O’s fit together and who you should see first:
First, schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your local optometrist. The optometrist will conduct the exam and prescribe corrective lenses, if necessary. If they detect an eye concern that is outside their scope of practice, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist for further treatment.
After the exam, an optician (often at the same office) will help you select frames that properly fit. The optician may measure the distance between your pupils, check that the frames’ bridge isn’t too wide or too narrow for your nose, and ensure that the temples fit properly behind your ears. They will also help ensure that the frame you choose will work with your particular prescription in order to minimize lens thickness and weight and to ensure the frames provide enough space to accommodate a multifocal lens, if applicable. Lastly, he will recommend a lens material that works best with your prescription strength and lifestyle before placing the order or making the lenses himself.
There are many aspects to selecting an appropriate frame, which is why buying in-person with a trusted eye care professional can make all the difference in obtaining great vision care and eye wear.