Optometrists, Ophthalmologists, and Opticians: Whats the Difference?

By Dr. Nikhil S. Sardar in Ophthalmology

Apr 24 , 2023 | 4 min read


These words can seem quite overwhelming. They are all associated with the eye. The word "ophthalm" means eye in medical terminology. Both ophthalmologists and optometrists are eye doctors.

While ophthalmologists are experts in medical and surgical eye care, optometrists take care of the vision. Opticians are not eye doctors, but they can carry out eye tests. These professionals work together and positively contribute to the betterment of patients.

This article provides an understanding of the roles of optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians.

Who is an optometrist?

An optometrist is a medical professional who is involved in vision care. They detect vision, signs of injury, eye disease or abnormality, and a general problem with health. After their medical degree, they undergo four years of additional training to attain an optometry degree. Essentially, they provide vision and eye care services.

Role of an optometrist

They perform the following functions:

  • Vision and eye tests
  • Prescribe contact lens
  • Fix eyeglass
  • Monitor the vision health of patients who have diabetes and other systemic conditions
  • Diagnose and treat conditions like dry eyes and glaucoma
  • Provide vision therapy and vision aids

Need for optometrists in eye health care

They are like general doctors but for eye care. They play a crucial role in vision analysis. They can detect eye diseases and can prevent permanent damage to the vision. Optometrists can be approached for general eye checkups.

It is better to meet them every year to get the general status of the eye and vision checked. Many eye diseases are not symptomatic initially. So an eye examination is vital for general eye health.

Who is an ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialise in eye care. Along with diagnosing and treating eye diseases, they are trained to perform surgeries. They also write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses. They are extensively trained in a medical school for five years, followed by specialist training in ophthalmology for additional three years.

Role of an ophthalmologist

An ophthalmologist provides:

  • Vision care including eye examinations
  • Medical care for conditions such as glaucoma, iritis and chemical burns
  • Surgical care for trauma, glaucoma, cataract, crossed eyes, and other problems
  • Diagnosis and treatment for conditions that are related to other health conditions such as diabetes and stroke
  • Cosmetic surgery to reduce wrinkles and droopiness around the eyes

Need for ophthalmologists in eye health care:

Ophthalmologists are required when there is a serious eye problem that requires immediate treatment or surgery. Some eye problems that require special treatment are as follows:

  • Age-related macular degeneration, i.e. with age people are unable to see the objects before them
  • Lazy eye, i.e. a condition where one eye becomes weaker compared to the other
  • Blurry eyes caused by astigmatism, requiring laser surgery
  • Conditions that damage the cornea Diabetes-related retinopathy where diabetes leads to weakened blood vessels of the retina
  • Farsightedness

Who is an optician?

Opticians are technicians who are trained to design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses, frames, contact lenses, and other devices. To correct eyesight, they follow the instructions given by an ophthalmologist or optometrists through prescription. They do not test vision or write prescriptions. They are not doctors. They get a two-year diploma certificate.

Role of an optician

An optician performs the following functions:

  • Follow the prescriptions given by doctors.
  • Provide, repair, adjust and fit glass frames
  • Provide contact lenses and provide basic instructions on their wear and care
  • Help decide the type of frame that works the best

Need for opticians in eye health care

They can be instrumental to eye health. They examine the internal and external structure of the eyes and can detect conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts. For this primary reason, it is advisable first to meet an optician or an optometrist. An optometrist will further suggest an eye surgeon as and when required.

Eye Doctors: Which one to go to?

There is no particular order in which to choose an eye doctor. However, it is best to get annual vision tests and approach a specialist if needed. The best way to decide on what professional to go to would be to think of what kind of care one needs:

  • For primary eye care, one can go to an optometrist. An ophthalmologist will be sought if needed.
  • When eye surgery is required such as in the case of cataracts, glaucoma or other eye diseases, an ophthalmologist with the required skills would be the best bet.


It is important to ensure a complete eye check-up while meeting an optometrist. An ophthalmologist will be referred for additional diagnosis and treatment when there is a concern. If the eye problem requires surgery, such as when certain eye disorders affect the eye and overall health, an ophthalmologist must be consulted. The level of care from an optometrist or an ophthalmologist is the same as it would be from any other healthcare professional.


Vision enables human functions in many varied ways. Without the ability to see, all the activities are affected. There could be many factors responsible for developing eye problems, such as diabetes, stroke etc. Most eye problems don't show symptoms initially however they may worsen quickly, which is why it is essential to get regular eye checks.

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