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Ask the Experts

Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist

by Berkeley Wellness  

Q: What’s the difference between an ophthalmologist and optometrist? Is one preferable?

A: An ophthalmologist is an M.D. who specializes in eye care and has three or more years of residency training beyond medical school. An optometrist is an O.D., or doctor of optometry, with four years of graduate training at a college of optometry.

Both diagnose vision problems such as nearsightedness and farsightedness, prescribe lenses, and screen for glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Both can prescribe medicines for eye diseases. Ophthalmologists have traditionally treated glaucoma, but over the past decade optometrists increased their training to treat it as well. Only ophthalmologists can perform surgery. In general, for the treatment of more serious eye disorders, you may need to go to an ophthalmologist.

In addition, there are opticians, who are not doctors and are solely licensed to make, fit, and sell corrective lenses as prescribed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Also see Common Eye Disorders Explained: Cataracts, Glaucoma, AMD