Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist | What’s the Difference?

Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist

Optometrists and ophthalmologists are two distinct health providers delivering eye and vision care.

Although the skills and training of these two eye professionals are very different, their services are best when they work in harmony.

Optometrists offer primary eye care, such as the prescription of contact lenses and spectacles and screening for serious eye conditions.

They refer serious eye conditions to ophthalmologists who manage them through the prescription of medication and/or surgery.

This review will examine the differences between optometrists and ophthalmologists, including specializations, education, and what they treat.

Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist

Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist – Which specialist should you select for specific eye conditions?


Optometrists are the eye care specialists that most people get to visit. Most optometrists have their practices but some work in outlets that sell contact lenses and glasses.

What Can They Do?

An optometrist checks your eye health and the quality of your vision by conducting a comprehensive eye check-up.

Optometrists diagnose and manage a wide range of eye disorders, including those that may require ongoing care or monitoring. They can prescribe medications for various eye conditions and, in some jurisdictions, may perform certain types of laser procedures or minor surgical interventions. Some of their services include:

  1. Conducting comprehensive eye check-ups
  2. Diagnosing common eye issues
  3. Prescribing eyewear, including contacts and glasses
  4. Treating minor eye injuries
  5. Visual therapy

All US states allow optometrists to prescribe medications for eye conditions, though the scope of prescribing authority varies by state. Depending on the intensity of your eye condition, the optometrist can refer you to an ophthalmologist.


Optometrists have several specializations, including

  1. Brain injury rehabilitation
  2. Geriatric optometry
  3. Ocular diseases
  4. Pediatric optometry
  5. Visual rehabilitation

Education and Salary

An optometrist must have a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. This degree is typically done within four years of getting their bachelor’s degree and residency.

According to a 2022 data from BLS, the average salary of an optometrist in the United States across all specializations is $125,590 per year.

Which Eye Conditions Can an Optometrist Treat

An optometrist can detect and treat several eye conditions. But in serious instances, they can refer you to a specialist optometrist or ophthalmologist for further care.

Some of the conditions an optometrist can treat include:

  1. Chalazion: A condition whereby there is a bump on the edge of the eye.
  2. Dry eyes: A condition where there is corneal inflammation
  3. Glaucoma: A condition caused by high eye pressure
  4. Ocular allergy: An allergy that affects the eyes
  5. Strabismus: A condition where the eyes are not aligned


Ophthalmologists are MDs (medical doctors) who can diagnose and treat all kinds of eye conditions, perform surgery and prescribe eyewear and medication.

Basically, they offer the same services as optometrists but with the addition of eye surgery and rehabilitation.

What Can They Do?

Ophthalmologists treat a wide range of eye conditions, from typical ones to more severe ones, that can cause partial or full blindness if not diagnosed and treated on time.

Some of the services offered by ophthalmologists include

  1. Checking for eye coordination
  2. Checking for visual acuity
  3. Checking for pupil response to light
  4. Checking for intraocular pressure
  5. Checking whether eyelids are functional


An ophthalmologist can specialize in different areas of eye care, including:

  1. Neuro-ophthalmology: Deals with visual impairments caused by the brain
  2. Ocular oncology: Deals with eye cancer and eye tumors
  3. Ophthalmic pathology: Deals with the diagnosis and treatment of neoplastic eye conditions.
  4. Pediatric ophthalmology: Deals with the diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions such as misaligned eyes in toddlers and younger kinds

Education and Salary

An ophthalmologist is an MD licensed to practice medicine and surgery.

An ophthalmologist must complete a medical degree (MD or DO), which is followed by a residency in ophthalmology, not a separate “four-year ophthalmology degree.” Medical school is typically four years, followed by a residency program in ophthalmology, which is also usually four years (including a one-year internship and three years of ophthalmology residency

They should also have the following:

  1. One-year internship
  2. Three years of clinical surgery residency
  3. At least one year of fellowship

According to 2022 data from BLS, the average salary of an ophthalmologist in the United States across all specializations is $265,450 per year.

Which Eye Conditions Can an Ophthalmologist Treat

An ophthalmologist is trained and licensed to treat eye conditions such as

  1. A detached retina can cause visual loss
  2. Cancer of the eye
  3. Cataracts that feature cloudy lenses and can cause visual impairment
  4. Corneal conditions such as corneal transplants, dystrophy, and keratoconus
  5. Eye occlusion, otherwise known as an eye stroke
  6. Eye trauma such as eye socket fracture
  7. Glaucoma using meds, laser, and operations to manage eye pressure
  8. Macular degeneration as a result of old age

What is the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist?

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who diagnose and treat ocular conditions using medications or surgery. Optometrists are doctors of optometry who perform eye examinations, diagnosis, and some medications prescription and minor surgical procedures.

What kind of education and training do ophthalmologists and optometrists have?

Ophthalmologists have obtained a medical degree which takes 4 years to complete, and an ophthalmology residency program, which is usually 4 years of training; some ophthalmologists are further specialized in any specific area, taking 1 or 2 years of subspecialty training. Optometrists complete a four-year doctoral program to earn a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Residency training, which typically lasts one year and focuses on specialized care areas, is optional and not included in the four years of optometry school.

Can both ophthalmologists and optometrists perform eye exams?

Yes, both ophthalmologists and optometrists perform eye examinations.

Can both ophthalmologists and optometrists prescribe glasses and contact lenses?

Yes, both ophthalmologists and optometrists can prescribe glasses and contact lenses.

Are ophthalmologists and optometrists qualified to perform eye surgeries?

Ophthalmologists are qualified to perform eye surgery of any level of complexity, provided the appropriate training. Optometrists are primarily licensed to perform certain minor surgical procedures, prescribe medications, and manage a variety of eye conditions. The scope of practice for optometrists regarding surgical procedures, including laser surgeries, varies significantly by jurisdiction. Laser eye surgeries are generally performed by ophthalmologists, although optometrists in a few jurisdictions may be allowed to perform certain laser procedures under specific regulations.

Final Thought

To sum it all up, you might be unsure which eye care provider you should visit.

If you’re experiencing issues with vision that need glasses, an optometrist is your best bet. But, if you have a serious issue that needs in-depth analysis and/or surgery, see an ophthalmologist.

See Also

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Current Version
May 31, 2022
Written By
Shubham Grover
March 23, 2024
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.

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