What is the difference between an ophthalmologist, optometrist and optician?

Medically reviewed by Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts.

Are you confused about the difference between an ophthalmologist, optometrist and optician? This article explains the difference between them. If you’re unsure about whether you need glasses or not, why not start with using our handy do I need glasses tool? It’s easy and simple to use.

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 perform eye exams and vision tests.

What does an optician do?

An optician prescribes and dispenses contact lenses and/or glasses. 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, opticians even made lenses. Now, this is mostly outsourced to separate manufacturers to maximise time and money.

Dispensing opticians

Dispensing Opticians can provide advice on the most suitable lens type and frame choice based on the glass’s prescription provided by the optometrist. As well as helping you to choose the most appropriate frame and lenses, they can give advice on eye care.

Some dispensing opticians who complete further training, can fit contact lenses and provide aftercare.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a doctor/surgeon who has become specially trained in eye care. They identify and treat eye conditions or diseases through medicine and surgical eye care.

How does an ophthalmologist become trained?

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.

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 an ‘ophthalmic optician’. They are qualified eye care professionals and can examine your eyes to find visual defects. They are usually involved in a routine eye check.

What does an optometrist do?

An optometrist usually works in an opticians or an eye hospital. 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 detect eye conditions, including:

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 diseases such as glaucoma. An optometrist writes a prescription and dispensing optician performs a fitting for either glasses or 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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