How To Choose the Right Type of Eye Doctor or Eye Specialist
It's important to know which eye doctor to go to depending on your requirements. There are three types that fill each of the following needs:
- Eye Disorders and Diseases
- Vision Correction
- Filling Lens Prescriptions
Here is a quick explanation of each one:
- Ophthalmologist - This is a medical doctor educated with the diseases of the eye. They are specialists dealing with disease and injury of the eye. They also perform surgical procedures. They must complete a residency in ophthalmology in medical school and can have an M.D. degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.).
- Optometrist - This doctor has an education in optics and is the one who figures out what prescription you need to improve your vision. In the United States, they complete medical training before their practice. They have an O.D. degree–Doctor of Optometry, which takes four years to complete after receiving a bachelor’s degree.
- Optician - This is a health care practitioner who fills the prescription by fitting and dispensing lenses and eyewear for the correction of your vision. They usually have an associate's degree or an apprenticeship of two to four years.
The Confusion Between O.D. and D.O.
I find many people get confused with D.O. and O.D., and some sites on the Internet mix them up too. So I decided to explain this clearly.
An Optometrist is an eye doctor with an O.D. degree. That stands for Doctor of Optometry.
On the other hand, a D.O. is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. They practice medicine and perform surgery, as well as prescribe medications. That has nothing to do with being an eye doctor unless they also completed a residency in ophthalmology.
A family physician can be an M.D. or a D.O. There is not much difference except that a D.O. pays more attention to a patient’s lifestyle to determine proper care, while an M.D. focuses more on treating ailments by prescribing medications.
Ophthalmologist: Doctor for Eye Disorders and Diseases
If you have a history of glaucoma in your family, it's important to get annual checkups with an ophthalmologist. That is the one to go to for any health issue or injury with your eyes.
As an example, my ophthalmologist diagnosed me with glaucoma and saved me from losing my sight. At first, he prescribed drops that controlled my eye pressure so that the optic nerve does not die from lack of blood flow.
An Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who can treat eye diseases. That's important if you have medical issues such as I had with glaucoma. A few years later, he told me about a procedure that keeps the pressure normal so that I don't need to keep using eyedrops.
The procedure is a special laser treatment that corrects certain types of glaucoma. It's called Laser Iridotomy treatment.1
Another example of an issue that requires the attention of an Ophthalmologist is if you ever suddenly have flashes and a lot of floaters. You need to get that checked fast. It could be a minor issue such as a detachment of the vitreous, the fluid in the eye.2 However, it can be more serious—such as a detachment of the retina, and that needs immediate attention.
An Ophthalmologist can determine which of these issues is the cause of these symptoms, and he or she can take care of it.
Optometrist: Doctor for Vision Correction
I discovered that an optometrist is the best eye doctor to go to when you want to get a vision test for a new prescription.
In the past, I used to go to an ophthalmologist to perform a vision test and write out a prescription. Then I would have it filled by a local optician who also sold me the frames. I often had issues with incorrect lens, but when I had a prescription written by an optometrist, I never had trouble.
I concluded that since optometrists are specialists with optics of the eye, they understand the needs of the patient better for vision correction.
Why Is an Optometrist Best for Vision Correction
As I got older, I eventually needed progressive lenses. These are special lenses that have differing prescriptions from top to bottom. The top is for seeing far, and the bottom is for near. They are like bifocals, but without the line between distance and near. Progressive lenses change gradually from top to bottom.
The first time I had progressives prescribed, I had my ophthalmologist do it. I never could get used to the glasses. I ended up returning them for a refund.
Everyone tried to tell me that it takes time to get used to them. Don't believe that. It's wrong. If the lenses were made right, and set in the frame correctly, you wouldn't need to adjust to them.
I found out that this was the case when a friend insisted that I go to her optometrist to get a prescription for progressive eyeglasses. Her doctor considered my particular needs by asking what I did for a living.
Since I told him I do a lot of work on a computer, he specified that the lenses should be set higher in the frames. That was necessary since most of my work involved looking out the middle for nearby work. Without that consideration, the lenses would be set too low.
When one reads, one looks out the lower part. But in my case, I look out the middle of the lens since I am close to the computer. That was the first time I had an optometrist give me a vision test and write a prescription, and he understood my needs. My progressives were great from the first time I wore them. I never had a problem with eyeglass prescriptions since then.
As I mentioned earlier, Ophthalmologists understand diseases of the eye. That is their specialty. But Optometrists know better how to determine proper prescriptions for vision correction.
Optician: Doctor for Filling Lens Prescriptions
Opticians know how to set the Position of Wear (POW) properly. That includes five different values that are important to set correctly.
For example, progressive lenses require a proper angle known as pantoscopic tilt. Ask your doctor about that. If he or she does not know what you mean, find another doctor.
Two more common settings are:
- Pupillary Distance or P.D. — Distance between the pupils.
- Optical Center or O.C. — Position that is the optical center of the lens.
Modern Opticians’ offices have up-to-date equipment for measuring these things digitally, with a precision of 0.1mm.
If you already have a prescription from a recent vision test, you can bring it to an optician to get your eyeglasses. He or she will order the lens and fit it correctly in your frame. Many opticians also sell the frames.
How the Eye Doctor Measures Internal Eye Pressure
An eye doctor uses a machine called a Tonometer to perform an exam to measure the internal eye pressure. The exam is known as a Tonometry. The machine displays the pressure in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
There are two kinds of Tonometers:
- The Applanation Tonometer applies a small amount of pressure to the eye and measures the resistance to determine the internal pressure.
- A Non-contact Tonometer is not as accurate but used on patients who are queasy about having something touch their eyes. This tonometer uses a warm puff of air.
In both cases, the doctor gives you numbing eye drops, so you don’t feel it.
Normal eye pressure is in the range of 12 to 22 mm Hg. Pressure higher than 20 mm Hg may indicate a diagnosis of glaucoma.3 However, some people can have glaucoma at lower pressures. That’s why it’s important always to have a thorough eye exam by an ophthalmologist.
As you can see, each type of eye doctor has a unique specialty that they perform well. There is some overlapping, and this creates confusion for patients.
Although one might have a procedure done by a doctor whose primary discipline is different, it's better to have the right doctor handle your particular needs.
- “How My Doctor Cured My Glaucoma With Laser Iridotomy” patientslounge.com
- “Eye Floaters and Flashes: I Had Posterior Vitreous Detachment” patientslounge.com
- Troy Bedinghaus, OD. (December 08, 2017). "How Tonometry Eye Pressure Test Works". verywellhealth.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Glenn Stok