An Optometrist or an Ophthalmologist? Which Eye Doctor is Right for You?

Woman pondering in front of an eye chart

Did you know that over 16 million Americans struggle every day with untreated or undiagnosed vision problems? Many patients report that they are unsure how to take better care of their eyes, which can lead to increased complications or even permanent vision damage. Fortunately, this is preventable if you schedule regular eye exams. If you’ve ever been referred to an eye care provider, you may have wondered what kind of doctor you should be seeing. What is the difference between an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist? It’s very common for people to ask which one they should be visiting, and the general public often uses the words interchangeably. However, there are significant differences between these two types of eye doctors and the way they care for your eyes. Here is what you need to know as you seek care for your vision in Southern Oregon:

What is an Optometrist?

An optometrist is a highly trained eye care professional who provides primary vision care. These providers have a doctor of optometry degree (called an OD), which involves at least three years of college and four years of optometry school. They are then licensed in the field of optometry, which means they are trained to perform eye exams, vision tests, prescribe, and dispense corrective lenses and medications for selected eye diseases,  and detect certain eye abnormalities. They can also counsel patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options that meet their visual needs related to their jobs or lifestyle. Doctors of Optometry are essential eye care providers and are recognized as physicians under Medicare, although they are not medical doctors. The American Optometric Association (AOA) estimates that there are over 30,000 doctors of optometry currently active in the country.

When and why should I see an Optometrist?

The AOA notes that receiving a complete eye exam from an optometrist is important for anyone over the age of 3. They recommend that adults who are between the ages of 18 to 65 receive a comprehensive eye exam every two years, and every year for those over 65. If you are higher risk, they suggest annual exams (or the frequency recommended by your provider). Some people who are considered high risk include: Those with a personal or family history of eye disease, with systemic health conditions like diabetes, who have jobs that put strain on the eyes or are dangerous to the eyes, or who have had previous eye surgeries. It’s important to note that vision screening is not a replacement for a full eye exam. A vision screening is simply a tool to identify those who may need a referral to an eye care provider, and they can create a false sense of safety for those who “pass” a screening. A vision screening can catch some vision issues but can miss many important aspects. In contrast, a comprehensive eye exam includes a wide range of tests to evaluate the health of your eyes as well as your vision. They can possibly help to identify symptoms of conditions located in other parts of your body, such as brain tumors, aneurysms, or high blood pressure.

What is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. They are different in their level of medical training, and what they can diagnose or treat. These providers have completed college and have undergone at least eight more years of medical training after graduation. They are licensed to practice medicine and surgery and to diagnose and treat any eye disease. They can also prescribe eyeglasses and contacts, and fit them appropriately for vision problems. An ophthalmologist can care for all eye conditions, although some specialize in a certain area and become “subspecialists.” This means they have completed additional specialized training called a “fellowship,” and it allows them to treat more complex patients.

When and why should I see an Ophthalmologist?

Seeing an ophthalmologist is important if you experience any of the following changes to your vision: partial or full loss of vision, seeing sudden spots of bright light, seeing distorted lines or blurry faces, having sudden eye pain, or changes in colors.

Your sight depends on seeing the right doctor at the right time, and choosing a trusted eye doctor is important. You want to delegate your eye health to someone you can rely on for the highest quality of care. At Medical Eye Center, we have both optometrists and ophthalmologists, and they can walk you through important decisions regarding your eye health. You can view our experienced providers HERE, and get a glimpse into their breadth of expertise. Our friendly and accommodating practice is ready to serve you in Medford or Grants Pass, and you can reach us at (541) 779-4711.