It’s a common question we get a lot: What’s the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist? While there is some crossover between the two, ultimately each one has a different focus or specialty when it comes to your eye health and care. Read on to learn how the two professions differ, and who you should be calling for your next eye exam.
An optometrist is an eye doctor who has completed a Bachelor of Science degree or higher, followed by a doctor of optometry degree. These are the people who will be your primary eye health care provider. Optometrists are educated and trained to examine eyes for both vision and health problems, correct vision by prescribing eyeglasses or contacts, and assist in pre- and post-operative care after eye surgery.
Your optometrist will:
- Conduct regular eye exams to examine and diagnose disorders and diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Recognize and help to co-manage other conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Prescribe and fit you with eyeglasses or contacts.
- Remove any foreign bodies from your eye
- Prescribe necessary medications (this varies by province, so chat with your optometrist).
- Refer you to an ophthalmologist or other specialists when necessary.
Ophthalmologists are surgeons and specialists in eye and vision care. While ophthalmologists are also able to perform eye exams and write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contacts, their primary focus is treating and managing ocular diseases through medication or surgery. Most people will not see an ophthalmologist on a regular basis, and a prescription from an optometrist is usually needed to book an appointment.
Who Should I See?
For your yearly eye exam, it’s best to book an appointment with an optometrist. Optometrists will be able to handle treatment for common eye problems (ex. dry eyes) as well as certain chronic eye diseases (ex. glaucoma). While both optometrists and ophthalmologists can perform routine eye exams to detect, diagnose and manage eye conditions, an ophthalmologist’s focus is on eye surgery and other specialized cases.
Depending on your situation, your optometrist will be able to refer you an ophthalmologist or other specialist depending on the care required. At that point, both your ophthalmologist and optometrist will work together to manage your condition.