Where do you go when you are having difficulty with your eyesight? Depending on the extent of the problem, your answer may vary. There are several different types of eye care specialists you could see, including an ophthalmologist, optometrist and optician.

What is an ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists are doctors that specialize in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system, and also in the prevention of eye disease and injury. They can be either doctors of medicine (MD) or doctors of osteopathy (DO). While medical doctors focus on disease-specific diagnosis and treatment, osteopaths concentrate on the loss of structure and function in different parts of the body caused by disease.

An ophthalmologist has completed four years of pre-medical undergraduate education, four years of medical school, one year of internship, and three or more years of specialized medical and surgical training in eye care. As a qualified specialist, an ophthalmologist is licensed by a state regulatory board to diagnose, treat, and manage conditions affecting the eye and visual system.

An ophthalmologist is qualified to deliver total eye care, meaning vision services, eye examinations, medical and surgical eye care, and diagnosis and treatment of disease and visual complications that are caused by other conditions, like diabetes.

What is an optometrist?

Optometrists are doctors of optometry (OD). They are trained to examine, diagnose, treat, and manage some diseases and disorders of the visual system. The optometrist has completed pre-professional undergraduate education and four years of professional education at an accredited college of optometry. (Optometrists do not attend medical school.) In addition, some optometrists may have completed a one-year optional residency in a specialized area.

Like ophthalmologists, optometrists are trained to examine the internal and external structure of the eyes to detect diseases like glaucoma, retinal diseases, and cataracts. Optometrists do not perform surgery and are not trained to care for and manage all diseases and disorders of the eyes. Optometrists are trained to diagnose and treat vision conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia. They may also test a person's ability to focus and coordinate the eyes and see depth and colors accurately.

Optometrists are licensed by the state to examine the eyes to determine the presence of vision problems and visual acuity. They also prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, eye exercises, low vision aids, vision therapy, and medications to treat eye diseases.

What is an optician?

Opticians are eye health care professionals who work with ophthalmologists and optometrists to provide eye glass-related services. They assist optometrists and ophthalmologists in providing complete patient care before, during, and after exams, procedures, and surgeries. With a two-year technical degree, opticians analyze and interpret eye prescriptions; determine the lenses that best meet a person's needs; oversee ordering and verification of eye-related products from start to finish; and dispense, replace, adjust, repair, and reproduce contacts, eyeglasses, and frames.

Eye health is the result of a working partnership between you and your eye health care provider. Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians work collectively and with the patient to ensure good eye health and lifelong vision. You should visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist for an eye exam at least once a year.

How do I choose an eye care specialist?

Because being able to see is so important, you should be proactive in the care of your eyes. Taking a role in maintaining your sight and preventing its loss includes choosing a qualified eye health care provider — one who has the right training and experience, can give proper diagnosis and treatment, is informative, promotes the best possible results, and shows genuine care for the health of his or her patients.

What should I consider when choosing an eye care specialist?

When choosing a professional to care for your eyes and sight, consider the person's qualifications, experience, services offered, and patient satisfaction:

  • Qualifications: Having a solid set of credentials is an encouraging sign of a good healthcare provider. Making sure that the professional has the proper and adequate training to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease can help you decide which doctor will best serve your eye health care needs. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists should be certified through an accredited medical institution and be licensed to practice through the respective state board of optometry or state medical board. Ophthalmologists should, in addition, have internship and resident training.
  • Experience: Experience is also important. An optometrist or ophthalmologist who has more experience will probably be better able to detect eye disease and diagnose disorders simply because they have seen more patients. Another benefit of visiting a healthcare provider with experience is the reassurance that they have maintained a practice of optometry or ophthalmology. You may also want to know if your eye examiner participates in medical research or medical education. An eye health care professional who participates in and is current with the latest research and education in his or her field is more knowledgeable about the latest techniques in diagnosing and treating eye disease and visual problems.
  • Services offered: Choosing an eye health care professional who is able to provide a wide range of services is beneficial, but you also should select your provider by what services you need. A provider who offers fewer services may, sometimes, be able to provide more specialization with a service or certain diseases, like glaucoma and cataracts. You should examine your eye health care needs to determine which provider best suits you.
  • Patient satisfaction: Talk to your family, friends, and coworkers to learn about particular healthcare providers.

After you visit the eye health care provider, determine if you were satisfied and comfortable with him or her. For example:

  • Were you seen in a timely manner?
  • Was the examiner thorough?
  • Did he/she address all of your concerns and follow up with any possible complications or questions you had?
  • Will you return?
  • Will you recommend him/her to others?

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/07/2018.


  • American Optometric Association. What is a Doctor of Optometry? (https://www.aoa.org/about-the-aoa/what-is-a-doctor-of-optometry) Accessed 6/8/2018.
  • American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, and Optician. (https://aapos.org/viewdocument/difference-between-an-ophthalmologi) Accessed 6/8/2018.

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