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What is the difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician?
Medically reviewed by Alastair Lockwood on 03 March 2021
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.
The term 'optician' is loosely used in the UK to describe an individual who deals with all things eye-care related. This includes those who work in a high street store to fit contact lenses. In the past, the opticians even made lenses. Now, this is mostly outsourced to separate manufacturers to maximise time and money.
The dictionary definition of an optician is:
'a person qualified to prescribe and dispense glasses and contact lenses, and to detect eye diseases (ophthalmic optician) or to make and supply glasses and contact lenses (dispensing optician).'
Dispensing opticians are focused on specialised eye-care equipment. They are usually involved in the final stages of an eye test; however, they are not able to examine your eyes. Their role is to give you advice and information on vision care and the different types of lenses and frames.
What is an ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a doctor/surgeon who has become specially trained in eye care. They identify and treat conditions or diseases that manifest in the eye through medicine and surgery.
An ophthalmologist is required to go through years of pre-medical education and medical school with medical practitioners. This is usually followed by an internship, and several more years of practical, hands-on surgical training. After this, they are certified to practice as a medical doctor officially.
The ophthalmologists also specialise in different diseases of the eye, such as strabismus, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. They may also assist in the monitoring of systemic diseases such as diabetes mellitus.
What is an Optometrist?
An optometrist is also known as a 'Doctor of Optometry'. They are qualified eye care professionals and can examine your eyes to detect visual defects. They are usually involved in a routine eye check.
What does an optometrist do?
An optometrist is sometimes referred to as an ophthalmic optician. Their training mainly focuses on the mechanisms of the eye and health care concerning eye problems. They may assess you on how accurately you can perceive depth and colours, testing your ability to focus too.
An optometrist can tell you whether you have a condition including glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and astigmatism. They can advise you on how best to manage a condition but may not be prescribing the medication to treat it. They will usually refer you to an ophthalmologist or your GP for specific conditions. This could be for a severe eye condition or abnormalities that may identify an underlying illness.
They can also recommend eye strengthening exercises, vision therapy and can prescribe corrective eyewear and vision aids.
Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist?
Both optometrists and ophthalmologists are qualified to examine the eyes for abnormalities, assess sight and prescribes corrective lenses. Optometrists are not qualified doctors; however, some optometrists can prescribe medications as well as treat different types of eye diseases.
Optician vs Optometrist
Whilst an optician is not an eye doctor; they are an essential part of your health care team. They are key to detecting silent disease such as glaucoma. An optometrist writes a prescription and an optician fits and sells glasses and contact lenses to correct vision.
Ophthalmic medical practitioners
An ophthalmic medical practitioner is similar to an optometrist. By similar, we mean that they can both assess your eyesight, prescribe vision aids and examine your eyes for conditions. Whilst they are medically qualified doctors, they are not equipped to perform surgery on the eye. If surgery is required, they may refer you to an ophthalmologist.
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