All of these professionals care for your eyes, but in very different ways. Depending on your vision and eye health needs, you may need to visit an optometrist, an ophthalmologist, an optician, or all three.
Optometrists, also known as Doctors of Optometry, care for your eye health and vision. They are the primary care provider or family doctor for all your eye health needs. That means you don’t need a referral to see an optometrist and they should be your first visit for any concerns you have about your vision and eye health.
Optometrists have a Bachelor of Science degree, plus a Doctor of Optometry degree, which is an additional 4 years of study. Many also have an additional year of residency training and other certificates in disciplines like dry eye and contact lenses.
With these years of training, your optometrist is qualified to give eye exams in order to recognize, diagnose, and co-manage a number of eye health concerns. You’re likely familiar with optometrists writing prescriptions for eyeglasses or contacts, but they can also diagnose and treat various eye diseases.
Optometrists can diagnose eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular generation. Optometrists also play an important role in co-managing diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and even brain tumours.
If necessary, optometrists in Alberta can also write drug prescriptions for eye disease, provided they have the necessary certification. Your optometrist may prescribe oral or topical drugs (like eye drops) to treat eye health issues including infections, inflammations, allergies, diseases, and injuries. Depending on the eye health issue, optometrists can also order and analyze lab results, give ultrasounds, and treat some forms of glaucoma.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye disease. They have a Bachelor’s Degree, plus 4 years of medical school. They have also completed a residency to specialize in ophthalmology, which is the medical and surgical care of the eyes.
Generally, you’ll require a referral from an optometrist or your family doctor to see an ophthalmologist. They are secondary care providers, meaning you would only see an ophthalmologist for eye disease that requires advanced medical or surgical care. Cataract surgery, for example, is a treatment that would come from an ophthalmologist, based on a referral from your optometrist.
An optician is trained to fabricate and fit eyewear. Opticians attend a college program for 1 to 3 years, depending on the institution. Once they are fully trained, opticians are licensed to provide eyewear like glasses and sunglasses. Some opticians may also be able to dispense contacts and other optical aids.
In some cases, opticians can provide sight-tests, but your lens prescription should always come from an optometrist. Opticians can’t check or write prescriptions for eyewear, nor can they assess your eye health like an optometrist would during an eye exam. Opticians can, however, help you select the best corrective lenses for your eyes, based on a prescription provided by your optometrist.
When You Should See Who
Your first visit for any eye care concerns should be your optometrist. They are the primary care provider for your eyes, so they will be able to determine what care you need and whether you need additional care from an ophthalmologist or an optician.
Your optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist if you require surgical or advanced medical treatment. Typically, this will happen after your optometrist has thoroughly examined your eyes and made a diagnosis.
Your optometrist may recommend you see an optician after an eye exam where they have determined that you need to update your corrective lenses. If your prescription has changed, for example, and your current glasses aren’t meeting your needs, your optometrist may recommend you see an optician for a new pair of glasses.
Your optometrist will provide you with a prescription that you can then take to an optician, who will help you select a pair of glasses. Depending on which optometrist you visit, they may have opticians and a glasses dispensary in-house, or you may need to visit a separate glasses dispensary.
If you have any concerns about your eye health, visit us in Sherwood Park or contact us today. Our optometrists have the equipment and the experience to provide you with comprehensive eye care, whether you require medical treatment or a new pair of glasses.