Optometrists vs Ophthalmologists What’s the Difference Between the Two?

Eye exam

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 14 million Americans older than 12 have some type of self-reported visual impairment. That could either mean one of two things — the nation is full of hypochondriacs, or we’re living lifestyles that are detrimental to the overall care and protection of our eyes. Given the rise of what researchers are calling “computer vision syndrome,” it’s safe to say that a little of both are at play.

That’s part of the reason why making regular visits to your eye doctor is so essential to continued good ocular health. The more we’re relying on computers to perform our daily tasks for us (working, banking, even grocery shopping), the more our vision is suffering as a result. Booking an eye exam with your doctor is the best way nip potential problems in the bud as well as make appropriate changes to your eye glasses prescription.

But there are two different types of eye doctors, and the distinctions between them are important. That’s why we’ve put together this primer on understanding which one is best for booking your next eye appointment.


What They Do: The word “optometry” literally means “something used to measure vision,” which is fitting because optometry is primarily concerned with the overall health of the eyes as well as the functionality of the entire visual system. The doctors trained in those disciplines are known as optometrists and are charged with detecting eye infections and diseases and diagnosing problems with eyesight and vision. Some are even licensed in their respective states to perform certain surgical procedures.

How They Get There: All optometrists receive a bachelor’s degree before venturing into their specialty program of eye study. Then, these eye doctors complete four more years of intensive schooling to earn their Doctor of Optometry degrees. Some even go on even further to complete one- or two-year residencies in order to further specialize their care.


What They Do: Like optometrists, ophthalmologists specialize in diagnosing eye diseases and order prescriptions for glasses. However, while not all optometrists are certified to perform surgery, all ophthalmologists are, and the procedures range from the most complex to the most delicate. It’s also well within the authority of an ophthalmologist — the definition of which is a “scientist of eyes” — to prescribe medications and perform heavy-duty research as part of scientific studies.

How They Get There: Four years of undergraduate work, four years of med school, and an additional year spent performing an internship gets all prospective ophthalmologists approximately halfway through their studies. From there, they must spend one to two years completing more training in the specific field they’re poised to enter. Couple that with years of continuing education, and you get an idea of the full scope of an ophthalmologist’s credentials.

No matter what kind of eye doctor you’re interested in seeing, it’s always a good idea to make the appointment sooner rather than later. After all, your vision is likely only getting worse the longer you wait. Reference links: Eye doctor houston

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