What is the difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician?

What is an optician?

An optician can either be a dispensing optician or an ophthalmic optician (see below “Optometrist”). Unlike an ophthalmologist or an optometrist, a dispensing optician is not qualified to test sight.

In the UK, we often use the term ‘optician’ loosely to describe an individual who works in a high-street store, fits, measures and dispenses corrective eyewear such as contact lenses. In the past, the opticians even made lenses, but this is largely outsourced to separate manufacturers to maximize time and money.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is aneye surgeon and consultant who is specially trained to practice surgical procedures on the eyes. An ophthalmologist would have gone through many years of pre-medical education, additional years in medical school, usually followed by an internship, and several more years of practical, hands-on surgical training before they can be certified and officially practice.

Their level of training also allows them to spot underlying issues with the body that affect the eyes, such as diabetes and high-blood pressure. While an ophthalmologist may be able to treat these issues, they often can spot issues in the eyes that indicate these conditions and suggest a referral to another specialist. An ophthalmologist may also be trained to perform laser eye surgery.

What is an optometrist?

An optometristis not a qualified doctor, however they can examine your eyes to detect visual defects and prescribe corrective eyewear. They’re sometimes known as ophthalmic opticians, and their training largely focuses on the mechanisms of the eye and disorders that result in eye issues.

An optometrist will usually refer you to an ophthalmologist or your GP if they come across a severe eye condition or spot an abnormality that may be the cause of an underlying illness. They may recommend eye treatments such as anti-inflammations, anti-allergens or anti-bacterial drops to treat conditions such as conjunctivitis, but they may not necessarily be the ones to prescribe the medication.

Quick links:


Eye exams for contact lenses
Do I need an eye test?
Can I buy my contact lenses online?