Should You See an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist?

younger female ophthalmologist checks an older female patient’s vision

Deciding whether to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist is a common issue. If you search “eye doctor near me” online, the results will likely be a mix of results for both. So how do you know which one to see? Both types of eye doctors specialize in eyesight and the overall health of your eyes. However, one type of eye doctor may be better suited for specific situations.

Optometrist or Ophthalmologist: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the roles of optometrists and ophthalmologists is crucial for good eye health. They play distinct yet complementary roles in the realm of eye care. Both help to preserve your vision. With that said, their scopes of practice and areas of expertise differ significantly.

What is an Optometrist?

An optometrist is a healthcare professional specializing in vision and eye care. They are trained to provide comprehensive eye examinations to: 

Optometrists play a crucial role in primary eye care. They offer preventive measures and early detection of eye-related issues. They aren’t medical doctors, but they do have a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from an optometry school. This includes four years of postgraduate doctoral training. 

Optometrists also provide advice on: 

  • Eye health 
  • Proper eye hygiene 
  • Lifestyle changes to maintain good vision 

Optometrists are essential in helping people of all ages maintain optimal eye health. Regular visits help monitor and address any vision changes. They may refer you to an ophthalmologist for more specialized or surgical treatment. 

What is an Ophthalmologist?younger male optometrist standing in front of a wall of eyeglasses

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors specializing in eye care and surgery. In the United States, they undergo years of training. This includes both medical and surgical aspects of eye health. As primary eye care professionals, they can diagnose and treat a variety of eye problems. Additionally, ophthalmologists are authorized to write prescriptions.

Ophthalmologists perform eye procedures such as cataract surgery and LASIK. They also provide treatments for:

  • Glaucoma 
  • Retinal disorders 
  • Optic nerve issues

They can also provide comprehensive eye care, including: 

  • Conducting eye exams 
  • Prescribing glasses or contact lenses 
  • Managing complex eye conditions 

Seeing an ophthalmologist is essential for individuals: 

  • With serious eye conditions 
  • In need of surgical interventions
  • Seeking specialized care beyond routine eye exams

Ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat various eye-related health issues thanks to their training. This includes diseases associated with other systemic conditions like diabetes or hypertension. They often work in hospitals, clinics, or private practices. Ophthalmologists collaborate with optometrists for a multidisciplinary approach to eye care. 

Key Differences

Optometrists are healthcare professionals with a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. They specialize in: 

  • Vision testing 
  • Prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses 
  • Managing common eye conditions 

Optometrists do not perform surgeries. 

Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, are medical doctors (MDs or DOs). They undergo extensive medical training to:  

  • Perform surgeries 
  • Diagnose and treat complex eye conditions 
  • Specialize in various areas of eye care 

They have a broader scope of practice compared to optometrists.

Which One is Best For You?close up of a male eye surgeon’s face during an operation

Are you generally healthy, but notice you have started squinting to see clearly? In these cases, an optometrist can perform an eye exam to determine if you need corrective lenses. However, see an ophthalmologist if you have a family history of certain diseases.

This includes:

  • Glaucoma
  • Macular degeneration
  • Diabetes

See an ophthalmologist if you need surgery for cataracts, LASIK, or other conditions. You should also consult an ophthalmologist if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Burry, darkened, or distorted vision when looking straight ahead
  • Reduced depth perception
  • Difficulty recognizing contrast in colors or textures
  • Sensitivity to changes in light
  • Seeing white or dark spots
  • Seeing halos or floaters
  • Frequent headaches, or pain in your eye
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in seeing colors

Keep this chart handy. It can help you tell if you need to see an optometrist, ophthalmologist, or other type of eye specialist.

Do you need to see an ophthalmologist in Knoxville, TN? Contact us today to schedule your appointment!

Optometrists focus on vision testing, prescribing glasses, and managing common eye conditions without performing surgeries. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors with extensive training. They handle surgeries, complex eye conditions, and various eye care areas. For basic vision needs, visit an optometrist. If you have significant eye issues, a family history of eye conditions, or need surgery, consult an ophthalmologist. 

Baptist Eye Surgeons is an ophthalmological practice in Knoxville, TN, Morristown, TN, and Sevierville, TN. Give us a call at 865-579-3920 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

*This blog has been updated for clarity and freshness since it was originally published on September 28, 2018.

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