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Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, Optician – What’s the Difference?

Updated: Mar 5

We all depend on our vision in more ways than we may realize. Without healthy vision, our ability to work, play, drive or even recognize a face can be drastically affected. Many factors can affect our eyesight, including other health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Having a family member with eye disease, such as lazy eye, glaucoma, or macular degeneration, can make you more prone to having that condition as well.

In most cases, blurry vision can be resolved with refraction, a test which determines the need for glasses or contact lenses. Most people associate refraction with the phrase- “Which is better- one or two?”.

However, blurred vision which does not improve with refraction alone requires a complete eye exam. The underlying cause of vision loss needs to be properly investigated, as it may be due to cataract, glaucoma, an optic nerve issue, retinal disease, or something more serious. Sight-stealing eye disease can appear at any time. Very often these diseases are unnoticeable at first and are difficult to detect without a complete eye exam.

Ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians each play an important role in providing eye care to patients. But the levels of training and expertise are quite different for each type of provider. Here’s a quick look at the types of eye care providers:


Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (M.D.s) who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists differ from optometrists and opticians in their levels of training and in what they can diagnose and treat. As a medical doctor who has completed college and at least eight years of additional medical training, an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine and surgery.

An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery and prescribes and fits eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems. Many ophthalmologists are also involved in scientific research on the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision disorders.

While ophthalmologists are trained to care for all eye problems and conditions, some ophthalmologists specialize in a specific area of medical or surgical eye care. This person is called a subspecialist. He or she usually completes one or two years of additional, more in-depth training called a fellowship in one of the main subspecialty areas such as glaucoma, retina, cornea, pediatrics, neuro-ophthalmology, and oculoplastics, as well as others. This added training and knowledge prepares an ophthalmologist to take care of more complex or specific conditions in certain areas of the eye or in certain groups of patients.

Many (but not all) ophthalmologist are board certified. A board certified ophthalmologist has passed a rigorous two-part examination given by the American Board of Ophthalmology designed to assess his/her knowledge, experience and skills.


Optometrists are healthcare professionals who provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes. An optometrist is not a medical doctor. An optometrist receives a doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree after completing four years of optometry school, preceded by four years of college.

Optometrists are licensed to practice optometry, which primarily involves performing eye exams and refraction, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, detecting certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for basic eye diseases. The scope of optometrists varies from state to state. In some states, optometrists are permitted to perform certain eye procedures, including minor surgery and lasers.


Opticians are technicians trained to design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight. They use prescriptions supplied by ophthalmologists or optometrists. Opticians do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction. Opticians are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.

It is important to remember that your sight depends on seeing the right eye care provider at the right time. When it’s time to get your eyes checked, make sure you are seeing the right eye care professional for your needs.

Safeguard your vision. See the right eye care professional at the right time.

To watch a video on the importance of an annual dilated retinal exam, click HERE.

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