Some confusion exists between the terms “optometrist”, “ophthalmologist”, and the good old-fashioned “eye doctor.” Technically, the two first terms are classifications of types of eye doctors. The difference is that the primary duty of an optometrist is to prescribe glasses and contact lenses and evaluate the general visual health of his patients. An ophthalmologist, on the other hand, is more of a specialist that focuses on more serious conditions and surgical procedures.
What does this professional differentiation between the two mean for the average person? In a nutshell, you should see an ophthalmologist for procedures such as repairing repair retinal damage and having a Lasik procedure done. The optometrist is your go-to person for yearly check-ups and lens prescription changes. If you have vision insurance coverage, your optometrist may give you a referral if she suspects a condition that warrants further analysis.
What to Expect on a First Visit to the Optometrist
In many cases, individuals don’t make appointments for annual eye exams unless they already wear prescription lenses. While the average person can get away with this practice for a time, an annual check-up is an important part of preventative medicine and basic health care. The typical first visit plays out something like this:
- The inevitable paperwork comes first. You can expect insurance forms, general health and specific eye carehistory, and any legal agreements that might be applicable in your area.
- Before you see the doctor, you will visit with a nurse or assistant who will conduct various tests. Some of the more common ones are the glaucoma puff test, a colorblindness test, and a visual field test. You may also have optional, fee-added tests or procedures to select from. For example, the refraction test evaluates how light behaves within your eyes. This test requires dilating your eyes using eye drops. Another procedure involves taking an enlarged high-resolution photo through the lens of your eye. Your doctor files these away and by comparison can tell if any important changes have transpired between exams.
- The next step is to see the doctor who will go over your paperwork and ask any additional questions. After performing various tests to determine the visual accuracy and general health of your eyes, he will prescribe glasses or contact lenses if required.
- Most likely the clinic will have facilities to be fitted for glasses and to order boxes of contact lenses.
When to get Treated by an Optometrist Rather than an Ophthalmologist
It makes good financial sense to remain in the care of your optometrist as long as you can and when it is warranted since ophthalmologists are much more expensive. Just where that cut-off point is, depends on where you live. In some states they can treat glaucoma, so long as they have earned their license or certificate to do so. They may also have access to various diagnostic drugs and may be able to prescribe certain therapeutic medications.
There is also a grey area with regards to surgery. For example, your optometrist may have the authority to remove a foreign object from your eye but not to do anything more invasive.
If you are already supposed to see your vision specialist annually but somehow let it slip your mind, try scheduling it around your birthday. That will make it easy to remember. If you feel that your vision needs correction, have developed a condition, or you are entering your 20s, now is the time to make that call and schedule an appointment. Don’t neglect your vision; it has to last you a lifetime.
Visit the West Coast Optical website today to learn about whether you require the services of an optometrist, optician, or ophthalmologist.