Eye Care and Eye Disorder

  • Medical Author:
    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, FACS

    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist. Dr. Dahl's educational background includes a BA with Honors and Distinction from Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and an MD from Cornell University, where he was selected for Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society. He had an internal medical internship at the New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ophthalmologists and Optometrists: Similaries and Differences

The three main types of eye care professionals are ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are both involved with the examination of healthy eyes and the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who is specialized in eye and vision care. In order to become an ophthalmologist, acquisition of an M.D. or a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degree is necessary following the completion of college. After 4 years of medical school and a year of internship in general medicine, every ophthalmologist spends a minimum of 3 years in a university and hospital-based residency specializing in ophthalmology. During residency, the eye M.D. receives special training in all aspects of eye care, including prevention, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of eye conditions and diseases.

An optometrist is a Doctor of Optometry, an O.D. (not to be confused with a Doctor of Medicine, an M.D.). To become an optometrist, one must complete pre-professional undergraduate college education followed by 4 years of professional education in a college of optometry. In optometric school, the student receives education primarily about the eyes and does not receive a comprehensive education regarding the rest of the body and systemic disease processes. The graduate is then eligible to become licensed by a state as an optometrist. Some optometrists also do further postgraduate residency in a subspecialty of optometry such as low vision rehabilitation, primary eye care, geriatric optometry, pediatric optometry, family eye care, contact lenses, sports vision, or vision therapy.

Opticians are trained in filling prescriptions for eyeglasses and determine the proper eyeglass frames and adjust frames for proper fit. In some states, opticians may be licensed to fit contact lenses. Opticians often work closely within the same practice as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, or an optician may have an independent practice.

Quick GuideCommon Eye Problems and Infections

Common Eye Problems and Infections

Eye care introduction

"Oh, something is wrong with my eye!" We have all said this at some time. How uncomfortable it can be! Fortunately, many common eye (ocular) disorders disappear without treatment or can be managed by self-treating. Various products -- from artificial tears and ointments to ocular decongestants -- are available over the counter (OTC). These products can help with dryness, itching, or excessive watering of the eye. However, a word of caution: In some instances, what may seem like a minor eye problem may lead to a severe, potentially blinding condition. So, always check with your doctor for any persisting eye problem.

Many safe and effective OTC products for mild eye disorders are available for self-treatment. Two important factors to remember when considering self-treatment are:

  1. if the problem appears to involve the eyeball itself, you should consult a physician immediately; and
  2. if you use an OTC eye care product for 72 hours without improvement of the condition being treated or the condition worsens, you also should see a doctor immediately. If blurring of vision, double vision, eye pain, or visual loss is one of your symptoms, see an ophthalmologist (MD) immediately.

Optometrists or Ophthalmologists provide eye exams. Optometrists provide attentive, comprehensive care. To self-treat common ocular disorders with OTC eye care products, readers should understand:

  1. the structure of the eye;
  2. the cause of the disorder;
  3. eye diseases and disorders are safe to self-treat and which should be referred to Optometrists or Ophthalmologists; and
  4. the types of OTC eye care products that are available and the disorders in which they are useful.

What is the structure of the eye?

The eyes are extremely complex sensory organs. About 85% of the total sensory input to our brains originates from our sense of sight, while only the other 15% comes from the other four senses of hearing, smell, touch, and taste. The eyes are designed to optimize vision under conditions of varying light. Their location, on the outside of the face, makes them susceptible to trauma, environmental chemicals and particles, and infectious agents. The eyelid and the position of the eye within the bones of the orbital cavity are the major protective mechanisms for the eye.

The eye itself has the shape of a sphere measuring about 1 inch in diameter. It consists of a clear, transparent dome at the front (the cornea) that is surrounded by the white of the eyeball (the sclera). The iris of the eye is the circular, colored portion within the eye. Behind the cornea is located the pupil, the central opening within the iris. Behind the iris and pupil is the eye's lens. The space between the back of the cornea and the front of the lens is called the anterior chamber and is filled with a fluid, called the aqueous humor. Behind the lens is a large space that is filled by the transparent vitreous liquid gel. The inside of the back of the eye is lined by the retina, the thin, light-sensitive tissue that changes light images to electrical signals via a chemical reaction. These electrical signals generated by the retina are sent to the brain through the optic nerve. Our brain interprets what our eyes see.

The inner sides of the eyelids, which touch the front surface of surface of the eye, are covered by a thin membrane (the palpebral conjunctiva) that produces mucus to lubricate the eye. This thin membrane folds back on itself and covers the visible sclera of the eyeball. (This continuation of the palpebral conjunctiva is called the bulbar conjunctiva.) Natural oil for the tears is produced by tiny glands located at the edges of the eyelids, providing additional lubrication for the eye. The main component of tears is formed by the lacrimal gland located under the upper lid at the outer corner of each eye. The tears are composed of a combination of the substances produced by the lacrimal gland, the oil glands, and the mucus glands. Tears flow toward the nasal side of the eye and drain into the lacrimal sac in the area between the eye and the side of the nose.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2015

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