What is an Ophthalmologist?

An Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are specially trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, from prescribing glasses and contact lenses to complex and delicate eye surgery. Many Ophthalmologists are also involved in scientific research into the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision problems.

How is an Ophthalmologist different from an Optometrist or an Optician?

Ophthalmologists are different from Optometrists and Opticians in their training and in what they can diagnose and treat. As a medical doctor, 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. Ophthalmologists complete four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship, three years, at least, of residency (hospital-based training) in the diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment of eye disorders.

An Optometrist receives a Doctor of Optometry degree and is licensed to practice optometry, not medicine. The practice of optometry traditionally involves examining the eye for the purpose of prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, screening vision to detect certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye diseases.

An Optician is 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, but do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual corrections. Opticians are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.

When should I see an Ophthalmologist?

Based on the examination, your Ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams. Because of an increased risk for glaucoma, people of African or Hispanic descent should see an Ophthalmologist even if they have no other signs of or risk factors for eye disease. Your Ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams. You should also see an Ophthalmologist if your primary care provider or optometrist refers you to one.

When you have no particular problems or risk factors, recommended intervals for eye exams are:

Newborn, pre-school and pre-teen: Eye exams should be given by a pediatrician, family doctor or Ophthalmologist at the following intervals: Newborn to 3 months, 6 months to 1 year, 3 years old, 5 years old and as needed.

Adults 20 to 64 years of age: Adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease should get an eye disease screening at age 40, the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to happen. Based on the results of the initial screening, your Ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams.

Adults 65 years or older: Every one to two years, as recommended by your Ophthalmologist.