Doctor Decoded: Ophthalmologists vs. Optometrists vs. Opticians

Here's how to choose the right eye care specialist for you.

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When you’re due for an eye exam, you know you need to see an eye doctor. But when you search it online, you see different terms, like ophthalmologists and optometrists and even opticians. What’s the difference?

There’s some overlap among the three types of eye experts. They all specialize in eye care and vision, but in different ways. To figure out which eye specialist you should visit, you need to consider what your goals and needs are for your eye care. You may also need to look at which expert your insurance plan covers.

What Are Ophthalmologists?

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (physicians) who specialize in eye and vision care. This means they completed a residency in ophthalmology after completing medical school.

Ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat diseases of the eyes, including diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma. They can also perform eye surgeries, such as cataract surgery or LASIK surgery. Additionally, they can prescribe glasses and contacts to help improve your vision.

What Are Optometrists?

Optometrists are eye care professionals who have earned their Doctor of Optometry (DO) degree at an accredited optometry school. They have also received a license from the state to practice optometry.

Optometrists can diagnose, treat, and manage common vision problems. They can prescribe glasses and contacts to improve vision, as well as medications to treat eye diseases. Comprehensive eye and vision exams are their “bread and butter.”

If an optometrist recognizes an eye disease, they may refer you to an ophthalmologist if needed. For example, you may need to see an ophthalmologist if you’re a candidate for surgery.

What Are Opticians?

Opticians are technicians who design and fit glasses and contacts. They may also fit artificial eyes for people who need them. They receive eyewear prescriptions from ophthalmologists and optometrists. However, they do not perform tests, treat eye diseases, or write the prescriptions themselves.

Opticians may have their own office, or they may work within a hospital, or an optometry or ophthalmology office.

Whatever your needs are, there’s an eye specialist who can give you the care you need. (By the way, here are signs your kid needs glasses.)