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What Are the Different Types of Eye Doctors? Which to See?

Updated on August 18, 2017
Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok is skilled at studying what doctors don't always share. His articles are based on his own experience and his systematic research.

There are three types of eye doctors with specialties to help you with each of the following categories:

  1. Eye Disorders and Diseases
  2. Vision Correction
  3. Filling Lens Prescriptions

It's important to know which eye doctor to go to depending on your particular needs. Here is a quick explanation of each one:

  • Ophthalmologist - This is a medical doctor who is educated with the diseases of the eye. They are specialist dealing with medical eye problems and can perform surgical procedures.They can have an M.D. degree or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). In addition, they must complete a residency in ophthalmology in medical school.
  • Optometrist - This doctor has an education in optics and is the one who figures out what prescription you need to improve your vision. In the United States they complete a medical training in order to practice. They have an O.D. degree–Doctor of Optometry. This takes four years to complete after receiving a bachelor’s degree.
  • Optician - This is a health care practitioner who fills the prescription by fitting and dispensing lenses and eyewear for the correction of your vision. They usually have an associate's degree or an apprenticeship of two to four years.

The Confusion Between O.D. and D.O.

I find many people get confused with D.O. and O.D., and some sites on the Internet mix them up too. So I decided to explain this clearly.

An Optometrist is an eye doctor with an O.D. degree. That stands for Doctor of Optometry.

On the other hand, a D.O. is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. They practice medicine and perform surgery, as well as prescribe medications. This has nothing to do with being an eye doctor unless they also completed residency in ophthalmology.

A family physician can be an M.D. or a D.O. There is not much difference except that a D.O. pays more attention to a patient’s lifestyle to determine proper care, while and M.D. focuses more on treating ailments by prescribing medications.

Source

Ophthalmologist: Doctor for Eye Disorders and Diseases

If you have a history of glaucoma in your family, it's important to get annual checkups with an ophthalmologist. This is the one to go to for any kind of health issue with your eyes.

As an example, my ophthalmologist diagnosed me with glaucoma and saved me from losing my sight. At first he prescribed drops that controlled my eye pressure so that the optic nerve does not die from lack of blood flow.

An Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who can treat eye diseases. That's important if you have medical issues such as I had with glaucoma. A few years later he told me about a procedure that basically keeps the pressure normal so that I don't need to keep using eyedrops. The procedure is a special laser treatment that corrects certain types of glaucoma. It's called Laser Iridotomy treatment. [1]

Another example of an issue that requires the attention of an Ophthalmologist is if you ever suddenly have flashes and a lot of floaters. You need to get that checked fast. It could be a minor issue such as a detachment of the vitreous [2], the fluid in the eye. Or it can be more serious, such as a detachment of the retina, and that needs immediate attention.

An Ophthalmologist can determine which of these issues is the cause of these symptoms, and he or she can take care of it.

Optometrist: Doctor for Vision Correction

I discovered that an optometrist is the best eye doctor to go to when you want to simply get a vision test for a new prescription.

In the past I would let my ophthalmologist perform a vision test and write out a prescription. Then I would have it filled by a local optician who also sold me the frames.

Throughout my life I had a few issues with incorrect prescriptions. But when I had a prescription written by an optometrist, I never had trouble. I came to the conclusion that since optometrists are specialists with optics of the eye, they understand the needs of the patient better for vision correction.

Why Is an Optometrist Best for Vision Correction

As I got older, eventually I needed progressive lenses. These are special lenses that have differing prescriptions from top to bottom. The top is for seeing far and the bottom is for seeing near. They are like bifocals, but without the line between distance and near. Progressive lenses change gradually from top to bottom.

The first time I had progressives prescribed, it was done by my ophthalmologist. I never could get used to them. I ended up returning the glasses for a refund.

Everyone tried to tell me that it takes time to get used to them. Don't believe that. It's wrong. If the lenses were made right, and set in the frame correctly, you wouldn't need to adjust to them.

I found out that this is the case when a friend insisted that I go to her optometrist to get a prescription for progressive eyeglasses. Her doctor took my particular needs into consideration by asking what I did for a living.

Since I told him I do a lot of work on a computer, he specified that the lenses should be set higher in the frames. This was necessary since most of my work involved looking out the middle for nearby work. Without that consideration, the lenses would be set too low.

When one reads, one looks out the lower part. But in my case, I look out the middle since I am close to the computer. He understood this. That was the first time I had an optometrist give me a vision test and write a prescription. My progressive's were great from the first time I wore them. I never had a problem with eyeglass prescriptions since then.

Ophthalmologists are educated with the diseases of the eye and that is their specialty. But Optometrists know better how to determine proper prescriptions for vision correction.

Source

Optician: Doctor for Filling Lens Prescriptions

Opticians know how to properly set the Position of Wear (POW). This includes five different values that are important to set correctly.

For example, progressive lenses require a proper angle known as pantoscopic tilt. Ask your doctor about that. If he or she does not know what you mean, find another doctor.

Two more common setting are:

  1. Pupillary Distance or P.D. - Distance between the pupils.
  2. Optical Center or O.C. - Position of the lens that is the optical center.


Modern Opticians’ offices have up-to-date equipment for measuring these things digitally, with a precision of 0.1mm.

If you already have a prescription from a recent vision test, you can bring it to an optician to get your eyeglasses. He or she will order the lens and fit it properly in your frame.

Many opticians also sell eyeglass frames. And they know how to fit it correctly with the lens. As you can see, each type of eye doctor has a unique specialty that they all perform well.

© 2013 Glenn Stok

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    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 10 months ago from Harlem, New York

      Thanks Glenn! And thanks for reminding me its time to update my profile! I'm actually at Touro College of Medicine now, across from the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 10 months ago from Long Island, NY

      kbdressman - Thanks for affirming the accuracy of my explanation, Katie. That means a lot coming from you since you are a premedical student.

    • kbdressman profile image

      kbdressman 10 months ago from Harlem, New York

      This is a great piece that's extraordinarily accurate and still easy to understand! Vision is important to our health in many ways and it's important that we see the right person for the appropriate problem. Thanks for laying this out so clearly!

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      wilderness - Yes I know exactly what you mean Dan. That is the most important consideration for any surgery -- finding the best doctor, especially for the eyes. But I can think of other surgery that requires the best in the field too. Such as a torn shoulder rotator cuff (I wrote about that in another Hub).

      I had read your hub on cataracts a month ago. In about 10 days a friend of mine is having it done. I had sent him a link to your hub and he was very grateful. He said he got a lot out of it.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 4 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Good hub on which doctor to look for. May I add another? I recently had cataract surgery and that means a surgeon, almost certainly one that is also an ophthalmologist. Believe me when I say that you want the absolute best surgeon you can find if they are going to slice into your eye!

      It's not as if you can throw away a botched job, like glasses, and get another one, after all. Cost must be secondary to quality here. Find one with lots of experience and that genuinely puts your best interests first.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Jean - Yes, I also would not want that line. Progressives are so much more enjoyable. But you have to be sure they are made right for you. Tell your doctor that you work on a computer so he or she will know to set the lens the correct way to cover the times you do your HubPages writing. I had to get that part right before I was happy. Good luck with it.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Oh, I see. Is it hard to get used to them? I don't want to endanger myself or anyone on the road. It's OK in places where I'm familiar, but I really am having more trouble reading signs or finding house numbers and such. I think I would like to be without the dividing line, so when I go I will talk to the Doctor about Progressives. Thanks for the advice!

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Jean - I have the same problem developing with driving at night. Many of my friends who are around my age say the same thing. Losing the ability to see small print is also common as we grow older. Progressives do the same job as bifocals in the sense that they let you see far when looking out the top, and near when looking out the bottom. Progressives, however, don't have that dividing line. They progressively change from far to near as you move from the top of the lens to the bottom. Hence the name -- progressive lens.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 4 years ago from New Jersey

      I have never worn glasses, but in my mid fifties, find I have trouble seeing at night when I drive, and cannot see little print on instructions and such. So does that mean I need bifocals? My husband went to a bad doctor who we think gave him a wrong script, and he ended up with a pair for close work, and a pair for distance. He said the bifocals made him feel headachy and nauseous. I'm afraid it will be too hard for me to begin with bifocals. What are progressives? Thanks.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      RTalloni - It would be interesting, and helpful, for all our readers to know what the results are with your vision therapist when you ask him or her about setting the lenses higher. Feel free to report back here on the outcome. Thanks for stopping by.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      An interesting look at ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. Am having an evaluation by a vision therapist this week and will be discussing the issue of setting the lenses higher in the frames--thanks.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      moonlake - Sorry to her what you are going through with finding a knowledgeable eye doctor. Try to find a good general ophthalmologist who can make the proper decision on what specialists you may need. Then check their references, which can be done online these days. Thanks for the vote up.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      I have the worst luck with doctors including my retinal specialists. I thought I will go to Mayo clinic and see what they can tell me. The doctor at Mayo did nothing but read my records from here and say you won't go blind but you will not be able to read or drive that is about as close to blind as anyone can get. I didn't even get an exam. Just venting. Great hub with good information. Voted Up.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Thank you to you both, Margarita and Christy, for your comments. It's common that many people don't realize the difference. Glad to know this was helpful.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      What a useful read Glenn. I wear glasses and these details about the differences between the types of doctors is good to know. Vote up and useful.

    • MargaritaEden profile image

      MargaritaEden 4 years ago from Oregon

      Glenn, this is a wonderful lesson on the eye doctors, I can't believe that I always thought that all three of those specialists names is the same thing, now I know it's not true.

    • Glenn Stok profile image
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      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Rajan - This is true with other doctors too. Being a specialist in one field does not necessarily make a good doctor. It's important for patients to know the limitations of each. I had another experience with specialists that I wrote about in another hub -- A hand doctor diagnosed me for carpal tunnel. But later a spine specialist discovered that my hand was getting numb due to a herniated disc in my neck. Sometimes it's useless to go to a specialist. Thanks for your comment and for sharing and voting.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Glenn, this is some very useful information that you have shared. In my country most people go to the ophthalmologist to get their vision tested rather that go to the optometrist. I know better now which specialist to go to for which problem. You make it absolutely clear in this informative hub.

      I'd want to share this useful info so that more people know about this useful and important subject.

      Voted and shared.