What's the Difference Between an Ophthalmologist and an Optometrist?

Mar 30, 2021

oph vs opt month featured image

Should I see an ophthalmologist or an optometrist? This is a question people commonly ask when they’ve never been to an eye doctor. Even those who’ve had routine eye exams before may be confused by which kind of eye doctor they should see.

In the simplest of terms, an optometrist is considered a primary care eye professional while an ophthalmologist provides secondary-level care for eyes. Both kinds of doctors can prescribe medication and perform certain procedures. Ophthalmologists and optometrists alike are often involved in scientific research into causes and cures for eye system diseases.

At Allied Eye, Dr. Matzkin is our ophthalmologist while Dr. Herron is our optometrist. Each doctor performs specific tasks, but they work together as a team. Which type of eye doctor should you see? Keep reading to learn more about the care provided by our team of eye care professionals.

What is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a Doctor of Medicine (D.O. or M.D.) who specializes in advanced treatment of visual system diseases. This extends to the eye’s associated structures, including the brain and the lacrimal (or tear) system surrounding the eye. They are trained in delicate eye surgery and ocular disease management in addition to providing primary eye care services.

Ophthalmologists receive at least 12 years of education after high school. This includes:

  • Four years of college
  • Four years of medical school
  • A year or more of general medical or surgical training
  • A three or more year hospital-based eye residency program

This is often followed by another year or two in a subspeciality fellowship. Ophthalmologists must also take continuing education courses throughout their career in order to maintain their licensure.

Choose an ophthalmologist when you:

  • Need eye surgery, cataract treatment or other procedures
  • Are experiencing a complex medical condition that threatens your eyesight
  • Have skin issues near your eyes, such as moles or skin tags
  • Have a referral from your optometrist

What is an Optometrist?

An optometrist is a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) who provides primary healthcare services related to the eye and the visual system. They provide routine vision care and can detect, diagnose and manage various infections and diseases of the visual system. Their services include refraction, or measuring your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses, and fitting/dispensing corrective eyewear.

An optometrist receives at least eight years of education after high school. This includes:

  • Four years of college
  • Four years of optometry school
  • A one-year residency in a specific area, such as pediatrics or vision therapy (optional)

Like ophthalmologists, optometrists must take continuing education courses to maintain their licensure.

Choose an optometrist when you:

  • Need an eye checkup
  • Are overdue for a comprehensive eye exam
  • Notice changes in your vision or other troublesome eye symptoms
  • Need to modify your corrective lens prescription

Do I need to see both types of eye doctors?

Not necessarily, though you are likely to see optometrists and ophthalmologists throughout your lifetime. If all you need is basic eye care, an optometrist can take care of your needs. However, if you have any eye diseases or conditions that need surgical treatment, you will likely be referred to an ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmologists and optometrists usually co-manage patients, working together to provide the best level of care. Dr. Matzkin may refer you to Dr. Herron for contact lens fittings, vision therapy or rehabilitation and other optical services. Dr. Herron may refer you to Dr. Matzkin for ocular disease assessment, treatment and surgery.

What is an Optician?

Another type of eye care specialist is an optician. These vision experts fill corrective lens prescriptions written by optometrists and ophthalmologists. Allied Eye’s optician is Jamie Lynn. She serves as the clinical/optical sales manager and has over 16 years in the optical field. She completed a three-year optician apprenticeship before joining Allied Eye and helps with selecting and fitting eyeglass frames.

Now that you know the differences between opticians and ophthalmologists—and opticians—you have a better idea of who you should call for your specific eye care needs. Call or text us today at (423) 855-8522 to make an appointment with Dr. Matzkin or Dr. Herron. Concerned about COVID? Take a moment to read our COVID-19 protocol and find out how our Chattanooga eye doctors are working to keep you safe!