How to Choose an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist or Optician
There are three types of eye doctors with specialties to help you with each of the following categories:
- Eye Disorders and Diseases
- Vision Correction
- Filling Lens Prescriptions
It's important to know which eye doctor to go to depending on your particular needs. Here is a quick explanation of each one:
- Ophthalmologist - This is a medical doctor who is educated with the diseases of the eye. They are specialist dealing with medical eye problems and can perform surgical procedures.They can have an M.D. degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). In addition, they must complete a residency in ophthalmology in medical school.
- 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 a medical training in order to practice. They have an O.D. degree–Doctor of Optometry. This 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. This has nothing to do with being an eye doctor unless they also completed 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 and 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. This is the one to go to for any kind of health issue 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 basically 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 vitreous2, the fluid in the eye. 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 simply get a vision test for a new prescription.
In the past I would let my ophthalmologist 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.
Throughout my life I had a few issues with incorrect prescriptions. But when I had a prescription written by an optometrist, I never had trouble. I came to the conclusion 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, eventually I 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 seeing 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, it was done by my ophthalmologist. I never could get used to them. I ended up returning the glasses 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 is the case when a friend insisted that I go to her optometrist to get a prescription for progressive eyeglasses. Her doctor took my particular needs into consideration 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. This 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 since I am close to the computer. He understood this. That was the first time I had an optometrist give me a vision test and write a prescription. My progressive's were great from the first time I wore them. I never had a problem with eyeglass prescriptions since then.
Ophthalmologists are educated with the diseases of the eye and 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 properly set the Position of Wear (POW). This 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 of the lens that is the optical center.
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 properly in your frame.
Many opticians also sell eyeglass frames. And they know how to fit it correctly with the lens. As you can see, each type of eye doctor has a unique specialty that they all perform well.
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