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Do I Need an Optometrist or an Ophthalmologist?

Do I Need an Optometrist or an Ophthalmologist?

The eyes are the window to the soul and our window to view the world around us. It's through them we experience the beauty of the mountains, the smile of a loved one, and our favorite movie. 

Good vision is an essential component of living an engaging and fruitful life for many of us. But eye care is one aspect of health that can fall to the wayside until it is too late.

Some eye conditions are entirely out of our hands, whether from genetics or age. However, there are many eye diseases that can be prevented or managed with proper eye care habits. One good practice that can help everyone is making sure to check your eye health with an eye care professional regularly.

Optometrist or an Ophthalmologist: Which One Is Right for You?

If you are looking for eye care health for monitoring or treating a developing condition, you have probably heard two types of providers mentioned and are wondering if you need an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. While similarly named, the level and types of care these medical professionals provide can be quite different.

Let us take a look at the differences in training and services provided by both optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Optometrist Training and Available Services

An optometrist is a healthcare professional often referred to as a doctor of optometry who specializes in primary eye care. Think of a general practitioner, only for the eyes. They can perform eye exams, prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses, detect and diagnose common eye conditions (like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism), and provide treatment for certain eye diseases. 

Training for optometry does not require going to medical school, but rather attending a specific school for optometry from which they get a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree.  Most optometrists do 4 years of undergraduate schooling and then 4 years of optometry school.  Some will go on and do residencies after graduation from optometry school to specialize in certain areas of optometry like low vision, vision therapy or contact lenses.

Some of the most common reasons you might see an optometrist include:

  • Routine eye exams to check your vision and eye health
  • Prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • Examinations and diagnosis for common eye diseases and conditions
  • Management of eye conditions, such as glaucoma, dry eyes or allergies

Just like you go to your primary care doctor before seeing a specialist, your optometrist is the first stop for eye health. They can handle monitoring and managing many eye diseases . Once something moves outside their scope, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist or other appropriate doctor.

Ophthalmologist Training and Available Services

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in both medical and surgical eye care. They have completed medical school and further training in eye care, allowing them to diagnose and treat a broader range of eye conditions, including more complex diseases, injuries, and surgeries. Some even specialize further within the field of ophthalmology.

You might see an ophthalmologist for:

  • Treatment and management of various eye conditions, including glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and more
  • Surgical procedures, such as cataract surgery, LASIK, and other eye surgeries

While an ophthalmologist can provide the same care services as an optometrist, these medical professionals can also treat eye injuries or diseases requiring specialized care and direct surgical interventions. 

What About Opticians?

We’ve been talking about optometrists and ophthalmologists, but there is another eye health professional you may likely encounter: the optician. These are healthcare technicians explicitly trained in the fit of eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other corrective devices. 

While opticians cannot diagnose or treat eye disease, they instead rely on prescriptions from either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. 

Selecting the Right Care for You

In general, if you're seeking routine eye exams, need prescription lenses, contact lenses or have eye concerns, an optometrist might be suitable. An ophthalmologist would be the appropriate choice if you have more complex eye conditions or require surgical interventions.

You should have your eyes examined at least annually, even if you have 20/20 vision. Many vision problems have very gradual onsets, and having a regular check-up allows you to set a baseline for your normal vision and catch those changes early when they can be most easily addressed. So, we recommend having a new patient visit with an optometrist in your area, even if you currently have no concerns.

Remember that if you're unsure about your specific situation, it's a good idea to consult with your primary care doctor to get a referral to the appropriate eye care specialist based on your needs.

Asheville Vision and Wellness

Asheville Vision and Wellness has been helping patients throughout the mountains of western North Carolina with their eye care needs since 1989. We provide comprehensive eye care from annual exams, management of chronic conditions, prescription glasses, contact lenses, and sunglasses.

With three highly qualified and passionate optometrists on staff, let us be your first step toward maintaining healthy eyes and clear vision.

Come see what sets us apart and put yourself on a path to healthier eyes. You can conveniently schedule an appointment online or call on weekdays at 828-747-9260 during our office hours. We would be more than happy to help determine a care plan that helps keep you seeing clearly.