Finding a new doctor can feel like an overwhelming task, a task that feels even more stressful when you realize there are different types of doctors offering similar services. You will find this is true of eye doctors, too. When you Google “eye doctors near me,” you probably not only find many different vision practices, but you most likely see them falling into two different categories: optometrist and ophthalmologist.
Other than knowing that optometrist is much easier to pronounce, you may not know the difference between the two professions. Which should you go to with an eye infection? If you think you have cataracts? If you just need an updated prescription? (And why does “optician” keep popping up? Is it a third type of eye doctor?)
With so many questions, it’s easy to feel confused. But by answering a few simple questions, you’ll quickly and easily find the right doctor for you.
Do you need a routine check-up or do you think there’s something wrong with your eyes or vision?
I just need a routine check-up or a new prescription:
Optometrists are experts in general, routine eye care, including:
- Routine eye exams to catch early symptoms of eye diseases
- Vision tests
- Prescriptions and fittings for vision correction
If you’re simply looking for a routine eye check-up or a new prescription, an optometrist is almost certainly the right fit for your needs.
I think there is something wrong with my eyes or vision:
While optometrists primarily focus on helping you correct your vision and manage changes in your vision over time, most optometrists do also offer more “medical” eye care, including:
- Eye exams screening for conditions exclusively relating to diabetes
- Diagnosis and treatment for eye diseases like glaucoma, dry eye, and macular degeneration
- Counseling for surgical procedures
- Surgical referrals, as well as pre-and post-operative care
- Prescribe medications that will treat eye infections
So an optometrist is also a strong contender if you think there is something wrong with your eyes or vision, but aren’t entirely sure. Optometrists typically can schedule your first appointment more quickly, they are usually more affordable, and they often take more time to answer your questions.
Additionally, because they can continue to treat ongoing vision problems like glaucoma, dry eye, or complications connected to preexisting conditions like diabetes, many people prefer to start with an optometrist in the hopes that they can continue to receive care from only one doctor who gets to know them and their condition personally.
I know there is something wrong with my vision that will require surgical care or some other form of medical intervention, like a prescription medication.
Just like you wouldn’t schedule brain surgery with your general care provider, you wouldn’t schedule eye surgery with your optometrist.
Although optometrists can provide most forms of general eye care, they cannot perform surgery. Additionally, optometrists typically do not prescribe medicines that are not directly connected to an eye infection; the scope of the medications they are allowed to prescribe is very limited.
That’s where your ophthalmologist comes in. They can perform surgeries and can prescribe the necessary medications to manage pain after the operation.
Ophthalmologists specialize in specific areas of eye care that frequently require surgical intervention, including:
- Pediatric Eye Care
- Retinal Conditions
- Plastic Surgery
- Refractive Eye Surgery
Are your vision issues related to a problem with your lenses or something more serious?
My vision issues are related to a problem with my lenses.
If you are having a simple issue with your lenses, you may not even need to see an optometrist. Most optometrists employ opticians in their offices. While opticians can’t give eye exams, they are trained to help you with adjusting and repairing your glasses or contact lenses.
Moreover, most people don’t realize that frame shape and material impacts the types of lenses they can get. Additionally, face shapes vary, and you need frames that will fit your face well to optimize lens placement in front of your eyes. Opticians are often experts at finding the fit and frame that will allow you to see most clearly.
My vision issues are related to a problem with my lenses: namely, I don’t want lenses anymore.
Many people choose to skip glasses or contact lenses, and decide to go right to the source. Ophthalmologists can treat nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia through refractive eye surgery. (Most people simply refer to this as LASIK, even though not all procedures are, in fact, LASIK surgery.)
I think my vision issues may be related to something more serious, but I’m not sure.
It’s worth noting that routine eye exams are extremely important, because they are highly efficient at detecting many medical conditions, even ones you may not think of in relation to your eyes. These conditions include:
- High blood pressure
- Auto-immune diseases
- Neurological Conditions
If you feel like there is something off with your vision, scheduling an appointment with an optometrist is a great first step. The optometrist can help diagnose whether or not you have certain underlying conditions, and can provide you with the necessary referrals if you need to take any further steps.
Moreover, your optometrist can provide you with a continuity of care should you need further medical interventions, as optometrists can provide surgical counseling and pre- and post-operative care.
My vision issues are definitely related to a pre-existing condition like diabetes.
Again, optometrists can provide routine care for most pre-existing conditions, including diabetes and glaucoma. However, if you believe that you are experiencing more serious vision issues than typical and you will need surgical intervention, it is a good idea to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist.
Now that you know which type of eye care you need—whether or not you should see an optometrist or ophthalmologist—you probably want to know how, exactly, to get started looking for one! But don’t worry; we also have a guide for that. Check out our blog on how to find an eye doctor here.
And if you’re ready to schedule an appointment with an optometrist today, we’ve got you covered. We welcome walk-ins and scheduled appointments. Call us today.