Optometrist or Ophthalmologist: Which Is Best for Your Eye Care?
When you need an eye exam or have an eye injury or other vision problem, is it best to see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist? This primer will help you decide.
Whether you’re scheduling your first routine eye exam, getting new glasses or having a problem with your vision, a quick search online for eye doctors may leave you scratching your head. Is an optometrist or ophthalmologist best? And where do opticians fit in?
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Ophthalmologist Scott Wagenberg, MD, helps answer your questions about what each type of eye doctor can do. He also offers examples of what services each may offer.
Opticians can help you select and fit your prescription eyeglasses properly. They can advise you on frames and certain types of lenses and lens coatings.
They work from orders written by optometrists or ophthalmologists. But they don’t give eye exams or write prescriptions themselves. “They do not diagnose or treat eye problems at all,” Dr. Wagenberg says.
The answer depends on your needs and preferences.
Exams and prescriptions. Either optometrists or ophthalmologists may perform eye exams. And either can prescribe glasses or contact lenses.
Special contact lens fittings. An optometrist is often the better option for contact lens wearers. “Optometrists often specialize in difficult contact lens fittings, and are often best for that type of examination,” Dr. Wagenberg says.
Laser and other surgeries. If you’re considering laser surgery or need other surgeries, an ophthalmologist is the right choice. “Otherwise, a good optometrist can handle what a general ophthalmologist can,” he says.
Serious eye conditions. If you have a serious condition — severe macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, for instance — you’ll typically see a specialist (ophthalmologist). If you don’t have any serious eye problems, the choice is really up to you.
When you have blurry vision, eye pain or “floaters,” it’s fine to see either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, Dr. Wagenberg says.
A good eye doctor will help point you in the right direction if you need to see a different doctor or a specialist.
“An optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist for any difficult medical conditions such as uncontrolled eye infections, medically unmanageable glaucoma, cataract surgery, corneal transplants or retinal problems,” he says.