What is the Difference Between an Opthalmologist and an Optometrist?

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Find out the difference between an opthalmologist and an optometrist.

Among the many different types of doctors, the ophthalmologist and the optometrist seem to be the same type of doctor. Many people are confused between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist because both are eye professionals. This article clarifies the difference between these two specializations.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An opthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and care of the eyes and the visual systems.

How are ophthalmologists trained?

Ophthalmologists need to finish a premedical course in college followed by four years of medical school and one year of internship to complete their doctorate degree. Once they have become licensed physicians, they spend three or more years in residency which consists of both medical and surgical training in eye care.

What kinds of eye diseases or disorders are treated by ophthalmologists?

Ophthalmologists treat the following eye problems:

  • Glaucoma (an eye disease that damages the optic nerve and impairs vision which may progress to blindness)
  • Iritis (inflammation of the iris which may be due to a systemic disease)
  • Chemical burns
  • Orbital cellulite (a severe disease of the tissues that surrounds the eyes containing eyelids, cheek and eyebrow)
  • Eye trauma (injury to the eyes caused by accident, violence or similar events)
  • Crossed eyes
  • Eye tumors
  • Retinopathy (non-inflammatory damage to the retina of the eye which may be caused by a systemic disease like diabetes)
  • Optic neuritis (inflammation of the eye nerve accompanied by pain and sometimes loss of vision)

Aside from treatment of disorders and diseases, ophthalmologists also prescribe glasses and contact lenses as well as employ plastic surgery to enhance physical appearance by reducing scarring or disfigurement.

What is an optometrist?

Optometrists are primarily trained to diagnose and treat eye conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism (an optical defect in which vision is blurred due to the inability of the optics of the eye to focus a point object into a sharp focused image on the retina). Optometrists prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses and advice eye conditioning exercises and eye therapy.

Optometrists are also called doctors but not in the same way as medical doctors. Medical doctors are doctors of medicine (M.D.) whereas optometrists are doctors of optometry (O.D.).

Doctors of optometry are independent primary health care providers who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures as well as diagnose related systemic conditions. Primary health care is health care provided by a health care professional in the first contact of a patient with the health care system.

How are optometrists trained?

In order to become an optometrist, one must finish undergraduate education and four years of professional education for an optometry degree. The four year education after college consists of training in eye examination and treatment of eye disorders.

Unlike the ophthalmologists, however, optometrists generally do not have any background in general medicine. Also, they are not trained to undertake eye surgery.

What kinds of disorders are treated by optometrists?

Optometrists are trained to identify the following eye diseases and to use some medications to treat them:

  • Cataracts (an eye disease that involves the clouding or opacification of the natural lens of the eye)
  • Glaucoma (disease in which the optic nerve is damaged, leading to progressive, irreversible loss of vision)
  • Retinal disease
  • Nearsightedness
  • Farsightedness
  • Astigmatism (an optical defect in which vision is blurred due to the inability of the optics of the eye to sharply focus on an object)
  • Presbyopia (a reduced ability to focus on near objects caused by loss of elasticity of the crystalline lens after usually the age of 45)
  • Amblyopia (also referred to as “lazy eye,” amblyopia is reduced vision in a healthy eye. It may affect one or both eyes)
  • Strabismus (a defect of vision in which one eye cannot focus with the other on an object because of imbalance of the eye muscles)
  • Macular degeneration (degeneration of the macula, a small area in the retina that contains special cells that are especially sensitive to light)
  • Retinopathy (non-inflammatory damage to the retina of the eye which may be caused by a systemic disease like diabetes)
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the most superficial layer of the eye, characterized by redness and often accompanied by a discharge)
  • Perform minor surgical procedures like removal of foreign bodies from the eyes

This means that if your eye disorder is not so serious or health-related, an optometrist may be consulted. For eye disorders that require surgery or more intensive medical intervention, ophthalmologists are appropriate eye professionals to approach.





© Patrick A. Regoniel 27 January 2011 What is the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist?


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