Which Eye Doctor Should I See?

Woman taking an eye exam using an ophthalmoscope

If you’ve spent enough time at an eye doctor’s office, you’ve likely heard the terms “ophthalmologist” and “optometrist.” As both refer to eye care professionals and sound relatively similar, they are often confused; however, these terms are not interchangeable. Each title involves a very different background when it comes to training and education, and patients are sometimes advised to visit one or the other depending on their concerns. At Prestera Eye, our dedicated eye doctors — Tory Prestera, MD, PHD, and Kevin Garff, MD — believe in keeping patients informed about care-related terminology. If you are unsure about the type of eye doctor to see for your concerns, this basic information may help you make a decision.

An ophthalmologist is authorized to diagnose and treat a number of conditions and issues, both of the internal and external categories. They can also perform major surgeries, such as cataract surgery, and treat serious ocular concerns, such as a pterygium. In addition, due to their advanced training, they are able to perform regular eye exams, prescribe glasses, and provide other less intensive services. To earn the title of “ophthalmologist,” an eye care professional must undergo at least eight years of specialized training, including medical school, residencies, and often fellowships. 

Meanwhile, an optometrist mainly focuses on routine eye care. In other words, their primary job is to examine the eye for visual impairments, infection, and other general ocular concerns (including glaucoma). While they do not typically undergo the same extent of training and education as ophthalmologists, they are still qualified to perform eye exams and prescribe glasses, contacts, topical medications, and other necessary aspects of treatment. Unlike an ophthalmologist, an optometrist does not have to earn a medical degree; rather, they must complete a postgraduate program to earn the title of “OD” (”Doctor of Optometry”). As such, while optometrists are qualified to perform certain ocular surgeries, they are not authorized to perform the full scope of eye care (for which ophthalmologists are trained). 

While one of the above eye doctors may prove to be your ideal option depending on your particular concerns, be aware that ophthalmologists and optometrists often work together to provide comprehensive care. An optometrist will often refer patients to an ophthalmologist for further treatment; for instance, an optometrist may be able to diagnose you with advanced diabetic retinopathy, but your surgery will need to be completed by an ophthalmologist. Please also note that rules for the extent of an optometrist’s care can vary by state (though those for the state of California are fairly straightforward). 

For more information about choosing the correct eye doctor, do not hesitate to contact our office today.