Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist | What’s the Difference?

Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist

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

The skills and training of these two eye professionals are very different, but their services are best when both 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.

In this review, we’ll look at 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 own 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.

An optometrist will diagnose and treat your eye disorders that don’t need specialized care or surgery. 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

Note some US states allow optometrists to prescribe meds. 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 should have an OD (optometry doctor) degree. This degree is typically done within four years of getting their bachelor’s degree and residency.

According to a 2021 study, the average salary of an optometrist in the United States across all specializations is $124,300 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: Deal with the diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions such as misaligned eyes in toddlers and young kinds

Education and Salary

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

An ophthalmologist must have completed a four-year ophthalmology degree following graduation from medical school with a medical doctor undergraduate degree.

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 a 2021 study, the average salary of an ophthalmologist in the United States across all specializations is $255,110 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 have a postgraduate degree in optometry, which takes 4 years of training, with a final year of residency training included.

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 only perform minor procedures, such as foreign body removal; in some states, they can perform laser eye surgery.

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.

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