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  • Writer's pictureMaria Cholakova

When to See an Ophthalmologist Instead of an Optometrist?

In terms of taking care of our eyes, choosing the right eye care professional is essential. Many patients have trouble distinguishing the roles of eyecare professionals, in particular, ophthalmologists and optometrists. That leads to the question: when to see an ophthalmologist instead of an optometrist?

In this informative publication, we will provide insight into the similarities and differences between these two types of practitioners. We will also explore the roles they play in eye health, and guide you to make the right decisions about seeking appropriate eye care.

Table of content:

Ophthalmologist vs Optometrist: Understanding the Roles


An Ophthalmologist is an eye doctor with a medical specialty in the diagnosis, treatment, and control of eye conditions and diseases. Ophthalmologists undergo extensive medical training in the ophthalmology field.

They can conduct clinical exams, administer treatments, perform advanced procedures, and do laser correction. Ophthalmologists also have a license to perform eye surgery, prescribe medications, and provide comprehensive eye care. Some of them are also qualified to carry out plastic and cosmetic surgery around the eyes.


An Optometrist is a healthcare professional who holds a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. They are primarily responsible for providing basic vision care, including basic eye examinations, prescribing corrective lenses, and detecting common eye conditions.

As eye doctors, if they suspect a severe eye problem, they ought to refer patients to ophthalmologists for advanced care. They do not have the medical qualifications to treat serious eye diseases, nor to carry out eye surgeries of any sort.

Similarities between Ophthalmologist and Optometrist

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists perform eye examinations to assess visual acuity, screen for eye diseases, and identify the need for corrective lenses. They both have the qualifications to prescribe and fit eyeglasses or contact lenses depending on the patient's visual needs.

Last but not least, both have medical training to detect eye disorders during routine eye exams. They can refer patients to specialists or collaborate for further diagnosis and treatment if necessary.

Differences & Are Ophthalmologists Better Than Optometrists?

Having eye problems might leave you wondering where to seek medical help and ask yourself, whether ophthalmologists are better than optometrists. Truth is, the roles of these eye doctors complement each other and play key parts in maintaining and improving eye health.

Optometrists handle mild cases of refractive errors. For general vision care, prescription updates, and routine eye check-ups, they can provide reliable services. At the same time, ophthalmologists tend to focus more on eye diseases, complications, surgery procedures, severe eye problems, and emergencies.

ophthalmologist role and expertise

Who Should See an Ophthalmologist?

On the topic of who should see an ophthalmologist, we assure you an ophthalmologist can cover and treat the full spectrum of vision and eye problems:

Patients with Vision Problems

If you are having difficulty seeing clearly, an ophthalmologist can assess your condition and prescribe appropriate treatment or provide corrective lenses. Even though regular eye exams could be conducted by optometrists, too, in case there is an eye disease causing vision changes, ophthalmologists can monitor your eye health more effectively.

Patients with a Family History of Eye Diseases

For those with a family history of eye diseases, regular visits to an ophthalmologist are essential for early detection and prevention. Since some eye conditions have a hereditary component, an early diagnosis can significantly impact the outcome.

Patients with Chronic Eye Conditions

If you have a chronic eye condition that requires ongoing monitoring (e.g. dry eye syndrome or keratoconus), an ophthalmologist is a better choice than an optometrist. They can provide specialized care, prescribe medications to ease the discomfort of living with a disease and offer long-term solutions to improve your eye health.

Patients with Complex Eye Conditions

If you have complex eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, or other serious eye diseases, it is advisable to see an ophthalmologist. Unlike optometrists, ophthalmologists possess the expertise and resources to diagnose and manage these conditions effectively. They can guide you through the treatment process and suggest the best intervention to achieve optimal sight.

Patients for Eye Surgery and Laser Procedures

When laser or surgical intervention is necessary, going to see an ophthalmologist is the only appropriate choice. These eye doctors have the experience and training to evaluate the severity of the eye problem, perform surgical procedures, and provide adequate post-operative care.

Patients with Emergencies

If you have an eye emergency, you should rush to see an ophthalmologist, not an optometrist. Medical emergencies are:

  • Eye injuries

  • Chemical burns

  • Physical trauma to the eye

  • Foreign objects in the eye

  • Sudden vision changes

  • Severe or persistent eye pain

In cases of trauma or injury to the eye, as well as chemical burns and foreign objects in the eye, one must seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist. They can prevent further damage, take quick action, and minimize the risk of vision loss.

Sudden vision loss, double or blurry vision, flashes of light, or a curtain-like shadow across your visual field, are also an emergency. These could be a sign of retinal detachment or ocular stroke. Such eye conditions require urgent evaluation and treatment by an ophthalmologist.

Moreover, persistent eye pain, intense redness, or the sensation of something stuck in your eye may indicate a severe infection, corneal ulcer, or acute glaucoma. These conditions require prompt attention to prevent complications and preserve your vision.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists are essential for providing complete vision care. Having regular eye exams provides the chance for early detection of eye conditions and can prevent vision loss. If you have any complaints about your vision, or if you have eye problems, we recommend you to get the appropriate eye care professional for a complete evaluation and adequate treatment plan.

All medical facts are checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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