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Optician, Optometrist, Ophthalmologist, What are the differences?

When it is time for an eye health check-up, it is important to know the differences between providers, what they offer and their level of expertise. All three specialties have a role in helping you achieve your best visual outcomes.

Here are the definitions of each and who you should see for your eye healthcare needs:


An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are licensed to practice medicine and surgery. This advanced training allows ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat a wider range of conditions than optometrists and opticians.

An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases and performs eye surgery to correct vision problems, as well as write prescriptions for eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other visual aids. They also provide comprehensive dilated eye exams. Dilation enables your ophthalmologist to view the inside of the eye allowing him/her to identify and diagnose eye problems that they may otherwise not see. Because they are medical doctors, ophthalmologists can sometimes recognize other health problems that aren’t directly related to the eye, and refer those patients to the right medical doctors, or sub-specialists like Glaucoma, Retina or Cornea specialists for treatment[1]. This added training prepares an ophthalmologist to take care of more medically complex conditions.[2]


When to see? Many factors can affect your vision, including family history, work, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other health problems. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone have a complete medical eye exam by the age of 40, and then as recommended by the ophthalmologist. Eye issues can often exist without any symptoms, so it is critical to get your eyes examined annually to ensure your eyes are healthy.

Doctors of Optometry are also health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.

Optometrists can perform annual or routine eye exams, including the diagnosis of certain eye conditions. They can write prescriptions for eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other visual aids, provide medical treatments or minor surgical procedures for eye conditions, as well as provide some post-surgical eye care.[3]

When to see?
You can visit an optometrist for your yearly eye exam, to refill an eyeglass or contact prescription, or even to receive medication and treatment for certain eye conditions.[4] Your optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist for conditions that require a surgical intervention or additional medical treatments like glaucoma, retina complications, cataracts or macular degeneration.


Opticians are responsible for making, selling, repairing and adjusting eyeglasses. An optician and an optometrist work in conjunction with one another at a vision care center or in a private practice. The optician can receive and fill eye prescriptions from both optometrists and ophthalmologists. Opticians do not perform eye exams, or diagnose and treat eye condition. Opticians need to complete an apprenticeship program that generally lasts six months in duration, or they could choose to complete a certificate program that lasts 1-2 years[5].

When to see:

You can see an optician once you have received a prescription for contact lenses or eyeglasses. The optician will help you choose frames and other vision accessories, as well as measure, fit and adjust your eyeglasses.



If you are over 40, have diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of macular degeneration, it is important to visit an ophthalmologist at least once a year for a comprehensive dilated eye exam to ensure your eyes are healthy. Zieker Eye also works closely with many area optometry practices and opticians in order to best serve our patients.

Contact Zieker today to discuss your eye care questions and concerns or schedule an appointment.











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