What Is the Difference Between Optometry and Ophthalmology?

Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2021
Ophthalmology vs Optometry
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care, whereas an optometrist is not a medical doctor and can only provide primary vision care.

Optometry is a healthcare branch that deals with eye examination mainly for refractive errors. An optometrist is not a medical doctor, but they can check your eye for obvious defects, such as squints and refractive errors, and prescribe corrective lenses or eye exercises.

An optometrist receives a doctor of optometry degree after completing four years in a recognized optometry school after three or more years of college.

Ophthalmology is a branch of medical science that deals with the study of the eye, its structures, and its diseases. An ophthalmologist has a doctor of medicine degree and receives the highest possible training in eye diseases. After completing at least eight years of additional medical training, an ophthalmologist can treat all eye conditions and perform eye surgeries. Many ophthalmologists participate in scientific research for eye diseases and vision disorders.

What are the 3 types of eye doctors?

Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians are three distinct healthcare workers who provide eye care.

  1. Ophthalmologist: is trained to treat all eye problems, including refractive errors. 
    • Some ophthalmologists become superspecialists and study further to obtain fellowships (in-depth training) in pediatric eye care, glaucoma, retina, and cornea and can manage complicated cases related to their respective superspecialization.
  2. Optometrist: can provide only primary vision care.
    • An optometrist can perform the following:
      • Test your vision
      • Prescribe glasses and contact lens
      • Detect certain eye abnormalities such as squint and ptosis
      • Refer you to an ophthalmologist for further management
    • They may prescribe medications for certain eye conditions such as dry eyes and red eyes. However, they do not perform surgical procedures or fundus examination, retina scans, or advanced ocular testing.
  3. Optician: is a technician who can design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses and frames. 
    • Additionally, they can design contact lenses based on the prescriptions given by ophthalmologists or optometrists. However, they cannot test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction, and they are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.

Should I see an optometrist or ophthalmologist for an eye infection?

It is always best to see an ophthalmologist for an eye condition (except for refractive errors). This is especially important if you are older than 40 years of age and have hypertension, diabetes, or high myopia (shortsightedness). Sometimes, diseases such as glaucoma (increased eye pressure) and cataracts (opacification of eye lens) may display symptoms similar to a simple eye infection (red eyes and discharge). Only an ophthalmologist is trained to thoroughly check your eye structures including your retina for any complications arising from a cataract or glaucoma.

Apart from eye infections and red eyes, it is advised to consult your ophthalmologist if you have the following:

  • Excessive tears
  • Progressive vision loss
  • Double vision
  • A painful condition of the eye
  • Family history of eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa
  • High myopia (shortsightedness more than −4 D)
  • Seeing colored circles around bulbs
  • Eye injury
  • New floaters (wispy strings that are seen in the field of vision)


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Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2021