Ophthalmologist, Optometrist or Optician – What’s the Difference?

One of the easiest things to get confused about when it comes to eye care is the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist. Then you throw opticians into the mix and you’re totally at a loss for which eye care professional you need to see. We’d like to break down the difference between the three, so you can easily figure out who you need to talk to when it comes to vision care and your eye health.


An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who specializes in eye and vision care. As medical doctors, they are licensed to diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform eye surgery and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. Many ophthalmologists take part in scientific research to learn more about the causes and cures for various eye diseases and disorders.

Some ophthalmologists receive specialized training in a particular area of medical or surgical eye care. They are referred to as subspecialists, having completed one to two years of additional in-depth training, known as a fellowship. Subspecialty areas include, but aren’t limited to glaucoma, retina, cornea, pediatrics, neurology and oculoplastics.


Optometrists have a doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree after completing four years of optometry school, preceded by three or more years of college. Optometrists are not medical doctors; they are licensed to practice optometry. They are healthcare professionals who provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment and management of vision changes. Optometrists prescribe and dispense corrective lenses, detect certain eye abnormalities, and prescribe medications for certain eye diseases.


Opticians use prescriptions provided by ophthalmologists and optometrists to design and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses and other devices intended to improve and correct eyesight. They are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases. Opticians typically receive a one or two-year degree or certification.

Who should you see?

Who you see depends on your needs. For most day-to-day eye and vision care needs, you’ll most likely see an optometrist. Optometrists are trained to perform eye exams and refractions, and they can also provide vision therapy for conditions like lazy eye. If your optometrist finds more serious eye conditions, they’ll refer you to an ophthalmologist for a more detailed examination.

For more information on eye health and vision care, check out our website today at illinoiseyecenter.com.

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