Do you know the difference between an optician, an optometrist, an ophthalmologist, and a retina specialist, and which one you should see for various eye issues? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Let us explain.
An optician is not a doctor. Therefore they cannot offer an eye exam, any diagnoses, or medications. Their job is to help fit you for eyeglasses and contact lenses. Opticians require one to two years of training, and in most states are licensed, but not all states require licensing.
An optometrist is a doctor of optometry, but NOT a medical doctor. Training includes 3 to 4 years of college followed by four years of optometry school. Optometrists are able to perform vision tests and full eye exams in order to prescribe corrective lenses. They are also able to diagnose eye abnormalities and diseases, and prescribe medications as needed. An optometrist is typically a primary eye health care provider, much like your primary care doctor.
This is the doctor you see for routine eye exams. If a larger problem is detected, or you already know you have a more complex case, you may be referred to or ask for a referral to an ophthalmologist.
An ophthalmologist is a physician specializing in eye medicine and eye surgery. Ophthalmologists complete 12 to 13 years of training and education, and are licensed to practice medicine and surgery.* In addition to being able to perform all the functions of an optometrist, they are able to treat a wider range of conditions than optometrists and opticians. Many also participate in scientific research to find cures for eye diseases. As medical doctors, they can sometimes detect conditions not directly related to the eye and make appropriate referrals to specialists.
*Provided by the AAO https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/what-is-ophthalmologist
A retina specialist is an ophthalmologist specializing in the subset of diseases and conditions of the retina and vitreous. They receive additional training for their specialization.
Your optometrist or ophthalmologist will refer you to a retina specialist if they detect macular degeneration, but you can also ask for the referral if you suspect macular degeneration.