Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in eye
care. Ophthalmology is a surgical subspecialty. Ophthalmologists are licensed
by state medical boards to practice medicine and are usually board-certified in
ophthalmology. Ophthalmologists are certified to:
- Diagnose and treat all forms of eye
- Prescribe and administer diagnostic and therapeutic
- Prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.
- Perform surgery on the eye.
Optometrists (ODs) have at least 3 years of undergraduate science
work and may have a 4-year degree. They attend 4 years of optometric college.
They are not medical doctors. Optometrists can:
- Diagnose refractive errors and prescribe
- Detect signs of disease and refer you to an
- Administer diagnostic drugs.
and treat eye diseases and prescribe therapeutic drugs (in most states).
- Perform some eye surgery (in some states).
Opticians are skilled technicians. They do not test vision, prescribe
corrective lenses, or diagnose or treat eye diseases. Some states require
completion of a 2-year training program or a 3-year apprenticeship for a
license. Others have no formal requirements. Opticians can:
- Fill prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact
- Help you select appropriate eyeglass frames and measure the
eyes to ensure a proper fit.
- Fit eyeglass lenses into
- Adjust eyeglass frames for comfort and proper lens
- Clean and polish contact lenses.
Making the choice
Both ophthalmologists and optometrists can diagnose refractive
errors, such as nearsightedness, and prescribe corrective lenses, such as
glasses or contact lenses.
Ophthalmologists can diagnose all disorders that affect the eye.
They can carry out any medical or surgical treatment.
In a few states, even where they are allowed to administer
diagnostic drugs, optometrists are not allowed to diagnose or treat eye
disease. They may observe signs of disease and refer you to an ophthalmologist.
On average, optometrists charge less for routine eye exams than
ophthalmologists. You may also be able to get an appointment with an
optometrist sooner than with an ophthalmologist. Optometrists are more likely
than ophthalmologists to offer evening and weekend appointments.