A close look at the different types of eye doctors
Eye care is provided by a few types of trained health professionals. Who are they, and what’s the difference between them? And when you need eye and vision care, how can you figure out who’s the best eye doctor near me to call for an appointment? Our staff at Fusion Eye Care, in Raleigh, NC, explains all that you need to know in order to make a smart, well-informed decision.
An optician is trained specially to design, fit, and supply devices for vision correction. That includes dispensing eyeglasses, contact lenses, low vision aids, and depending upon the particular optician’s qualifications, sometimes they also provide ophthalmic prosthetics.
Generally, opticians are not trained to diagnose or treat ocular diseases. However, if you have an eye condition and have suffered vision loss, your optician is highly qualified to fit you with eyewear and vision aids to correct and maximize your eyesight.
Where they work: opticians practice in several settings, including hospitals, medical offices, eye care centers, and retail optical stores.
Training: can vary; may consist of a four-year degree, a two-year associate’s degree, or on-the-job training.
Credentials/licensing: In the United States, the Society of Advance Opticianry (SAO) is the national credentialing body. An optician who is registered with this official organization must have a four-year college degree in optical science and advanced certification, and/or state license(s) to fit and dispense eyewear – eyeglasses and contact lenses.
An optometrist, also called a “doctor of optometry,” is a licensed physician who is qualified to check your visual acuity, prescribe vision corrections, and diagnose and treat various eye conditions. In all states, optometrists can perform dilated comprehensive eye exams to diagnose eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. They are also able to prescribe drugs – topical (eye drops and ointments), injectable, and oral medications (in most states), such as antibiotics, antivirals, oral steroids, and pain medications for a variety of conditions.
Optometrists may also be trained in surgical techniques to treat conditions such as corneal injury, eyelid and lacrimal (tear duct) disease, foreign body removal, removal of surface lesions and skin folds in the ocular area. The specific procedures that they are permitted to perform vary slightly between different states. In fact, in some states optometrists are also licensed to perform laser eye surgery.
Where they work: optometrists work in eye care clinics, hospitals, and offices that are often located within a retail optical store
Training: four years postgraduate training in optometry (the equivalent of an undergraduate medical degree); after the optometry degree, some optometrists complete one to two-year residencies in subspecialties, such as geriatric eye care or neuro-optometry
Credentials/licensing: optometrists must adhere to the same legal standards as physicians, such as passing a national board exam and participating in continuing education credits to remain current in practice.
An ophthalmologist is a physician who has received the greatest amount of specialized education on the physiology, anatomy, and diseases of the eye. As a combined medical-surgical specialist, an ophthalmologist is trained to perform eye surgeries, yet not all ophthalmologists do perform surgical procedures.
Within the field of ophthalmology, there are many subspecialists who have finished high-level training about specific parts of the eye, such as the cornea, optic nerve, or retina, or about certain ocular diseases, such as cataracts or glaucoma. Retinal specialists are specially qualified to provide advanced treatments for macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. In addition, there are ophthalmologists who have particular expertise in medical areas such as ocular oncology or glaucoma genetics.
Often, ophthalmologists who are highly specialized are also actively involved in medical research. They may, therefore, be connected to major medical centers or eye treatment clinics.
If you are diagnosed with a rare, aggressive, or highly specialized ocular condition that requires ongoing treatment, then one of these ophthalmologists may be your best choice. They are also an appropriate choice for anyone interested in participating in a clinical trial.
Where they work: in medical practices, eye treatment centers, and/or hospitals
Training: four-year medical degree and a four-year residency program in ophthalmology, with a medical and surgical focus. In total, ophthalmologists have had 12 years of college-level and postgraduate training.
Credentials/licensing: can be medical doctors (MD) or doctors of osteopathy (DO); ophthalmologists may also be board-certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology or the American Osteopathic Board of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. In addition, they must be state-licensed and required to participate in continuing medical education credits to stay current.
Why does my choice of eye doctor matter so much?
While many people, especially those who wear prescription glasses or contact lenses, visit an eye doctor for regular vision checks, it is typical to procrastinate when scheduling comprehensive eye exams. Unfortunately, this leaves plenty of time for sight-threatening diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, to progress – only to be diagnosed when they cause problems at a very late stage. As a result, these two eye diseases are currently the leading causes of gradual vision loss and blindness in the elderly.
As you age, your risk of eye disease increases significantly. Unlike cataracts, which can cause noticeable symptoms early on, ocular conditions such as macular degeneration and glaucoma can present as symptomless until irreversible vision loss has already occurred. To inspect for these diseases, an eye doctor must dilate your eyes and use specialized tools to measure intraocular pressure and examine the tissues at the back of your eyes, such as your retina and optic nerve.
Only ophthalmologists and optometrists are permitted to dilate your eyes and use the necessary instruments to check deep inside your eyes. So even if you are diligent about having regular vision tests, you still need an eye doctor who can perform a dilated comprehensive eye exam!
After age 60, it is recommended that you visit your eye doctor near me on a yearly basis. If you are African-American, it is recommended to begin with these complete eye exams after age 40, because the risk of glaucoma is much higher. And if you have diabetes of any type, it is essential to have a comprehensive eye health exam at least once a year.
Find Your Nearest Eye doctor in Raleigh
At Fusion Eye Care, our eye doctor is qualified to perform comprehensive dilated eye exams for patients of all ages. We will closely evaluate your visual acuity and ocular health. As your one-stop center for sharp vision and expert eye care, your choice of an eye doctor near me in Raleigh, NC is crystal-clear!