Eye Care Specialists

Overview

What is an eye care specialist?

Eye care specialists are healthcare providers who are experts in taking care of your eyes and vision. They see people of all ages for everything from routine eye exams to complex issues, including eye surgeries.

Lots of people call their eye care specialist their eye doctor. Only certain types of eye care specialists are medical doctors (MDs), but it’s common to refer to any provider who takes care of your eyes as your eye doctor.

You should see an eye care specialist every few years to have your eyes examined and your vision checked.

What are the types of eye doctors?

There are three types of eye care specialists:

Ophthalmologists

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathy (DOs) who have attended medical school. They’re qualified to diagnose and treat any condition that affects your eyes and vision, including performing surgery on your eyes. You might see ophthalmologists referred to as eye surgeons.

Optometrists

Optometrists aren’t medical doctors. Optometrists have a doctor of optometry (OD) degree and attend optometry school instead of medical school. Optometrists diagnose and treat lots of common eye diseases and vision problems. Optometrists can’t perform surgeries.

Opticians

Opticians are eye care specialists who help you choose the right eyeglasses, contact lenses or other vision correction devices. They’ll work with you to get the right corrective lenses after your optometrist or ophthalmologist gives you a prescription. Opticians can’t diagnose or treat your eyes.

What conditions do eye specialists treat?

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can treat the most common conditions that affect your vision, including:

An ophthalmologist will perform surgery needed to treat some eye issues, including:

How do I choose an eye care specialist?

Which type of eye care specialist you need to see depends on which symptoms you’re experiencing and which issues or conditions need to be addressed.

You’ll probably visit an optometrist for your routine eye exam every few years. They can also diagnose and treat the most common conditions that affect your eyes.

You’ll need to visit an ophthalmologist if you need eye surgery. They can also provide all of your regular eye care, too, including performing eye exams and giving you prescriptions for glasses and contacts.

Opticians usually work with optometrists and ophthalmologists. They can check the fit of your eyeglasses or contact lenses and show you how to wear them safely.

Talk to your regular healthcare provider if you’re not sure which type of eye care specialist you should see.

When should I have my eyes examined?

Having your eyes and vision checked regularly can help an eye care specialist identify problems right away. How often you should get your eyes checked usually depends on your age:

  • Kids: A pediatrician should check your child’s eyes at every well-child visit until they’re old enough to start school, and then every one to two years.
  • Adults younger than 40: Every five to 10 years.
  • Adults between 40 and 54: Every two to four years.
  • Adults older than 55: Every one to three years.

You might need your eyes checked more often than this if you wear glasses or contacts or need another type of visual aid. People with diabetes also need their eyes checked more often than what’s listed here.

Ask an eye care specialist how often you need an eye exam.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?

Optometrists aren’t qualified or licensed to perform surgery on your eyes. Your optometrist might refer you to an ophthalmologist if they identify an issue in your eyes that requires a surgical repair.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who can diagnose and treat any issue or condition that affects your eyes. They also perform eye surgeries.

What is the difference between an optician and an optometrist?

Optometrists diagnose and treat issues in your eyes. They’ll also conduct your regular eye exam.

Opticians work with optometrists and ophthalmologists. They usually have a two-year technical degree or certification. They’ll fit you for glasses, contacts or other vision correction aids. They can also adjust or replace your glasses, lenses or frames.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Eye care specialists help keep your eyes healthy and maintain your ability to see clearly. Whether it’s for a routine eye exam or a more serious condition that needs surgery, everyone needs to visit an eye care specialist throughout their life. Visit your eye care specialist as soon as you notice any changes in your vision.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/02/2022.

References

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is an ophthalmologist? (https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/what-is-ophthalmologist) Accessed 11/2/2022.
  • American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician. (https://www.aapos.org/glossary/difference-between-an-ophthalmologist-optometrist-and-optician) Accessed 11/2/2022.
  • U.S. National Eye Institute. Finding an Eye Doctor. (https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/healthy-vision/finding-eye-doctor) Accessed 11/2/2022.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Vision screening. (https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/vision-screening/) Accessed 11/2/2022.

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