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What Is the Difference Between an Optometrist and Ophthalmologist?

Blog, Eye Exam, Eye Information, Eyeglasses

Healthy vision starts with making eye-healthy choices and finding the right time to examine your eyesight. When you go to an eye appointment, you’re likely to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Both professions are qualified to assist with your eye care needs. However, there are a few differences between their offerings. 


While the differences may vary by state, here is what makes each of these professions unique and why you might want to choose an optometrist vs. an ophthalmologist for your concerns: 

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist: What is the difference?

Conducts Eye Exams

Depending on why you’re going in for an eye appointment, you may need an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Both professions can conduct comprehensive eye exams, which may include discussing your vision concerns, analyzing your current glasses or contacts, assessing your overall eye health, and providing professional vision advice. 


Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can run tests to check your eyes for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and a variety of other eye conditions. The tests may be used to test your depth perception, assess your light sensitivity, and analyze the movement of each eye. The results can pinpoint whether you need vision correction and if you have any pressing eye concerns that need addressed. 

Prescribes Corrective Glasses or Contact Lenses

Based on your eye exam results, the optometrist or ophthalmologist can set you up with prescription glasses or contact lenses. Your prescription should be valid for a year. However, a person’s vision can change over 365 days, so you should plan to come in for another appointment.


The optometrist or ophthalmologist will see if any changes need to be made to your prescription when you come back for your annual exam. If you experience any vision issues before it’s time to come in, the optometrist or ophthalmologist can see you earlier and determine if your prescription needs to be changed. Vision modifications tend to happen the most if you increased your computer usage over the year, as this increased screen time can cause symptoms of digital eye strain in children and adults. 

Holds a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) Degree

Education is one of the most important distinctions between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist. An optometrist typically has an undergraduate degree and a four-year doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree, which may include residency. 


In the O.D. program, optometrists learn about contact lenses, vision therapy, eye conditions, and more. Based on their education, they are qualified to speak with you about and work with you to address your eye health concerns.

Holds a Medical Doctor (M.D.) Degree

While an optometrist has an O.D. degree, an ophthalmologist possesses an undergraduate degree and a four-year medical doctor (M.D.) degree. The M.D. degree typically requires residency, an internship under a licensed practitioner, and at least four additional years of training specific to ophthalmology. 


In the M.D. program, ophthalmologists learn about medicine and related subjects, including anatomy, which provides a deeper understanding of how to treat specific eye conditions. By specializing in eyes, they have extensive, on-the-job experience that is directly related to vision concerns. This means that if you have an eye condition, the ophthalmologist is more likely to be able to recognize it and provide a plan of treatment. 

Diagnoses and Works With You to Overcome Basic Eye Health and Vision Issues

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can diagnose and provide solutions for standard eye health and vision issues, including but not limited to astigmatism. They can recommend specific lenses to keep your symptoms at bay and present solutions to improve your overall vision.

Diagnoses and Works With You to Overcome Severe Eye Health and Vision Issues

With their M.D. and specialized training, ophthalmologists can diagnose more serious health issues, including diabetes. If the condition needs medical diagnosis, ophthalmologists are more qualified than optometrists to make the assessment. They can work with you one on one to correct how these conditions may affect your eyes and refer you to a specialist for further treatment of the primary health issue. 

Administers Medication for Basic Eye Issues

An optometrist and ophthalmologist are both licensed to prescribe and administer medication for a variety of fundamental eye conditions. For instance, they can offer you eye drops to alleviate dry eye symptoms caused by computer vision syndrome

Administers Medication for More Serious Eye Issues

An ophthalmologist is more qualified to provide medication and other remedies for severe eye issues, including glaucoma. If you have a severe eye condition, you’ll want to see an ophthalmologist vs. an optometrist. 

Offers Vision Therapy

Both professions do provide vision therapy. Often, this involves the optometrist or ophthalmologist guiding you through a series of vision challenges to help with lazy eye, double vision, and other eye coordination issues. Vision therapy can result in great, lasting benefits for your eyes. 

Completes Eye Surgery

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can care for your eyes during and after surgery, but you’ll need to see an ophthalmologist vs. an optometrist if you need surgery, as an ophthalmologist is an M.D. The ability to perform surgery is one of the most substantial differences between the two professions. 

Summary of Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

Summary of Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

An optometrist can diagnose vision problems and administer medications to alleviate general eye issues. They can also conduct eye exams and set you up with glasses or contacts. However, only ophthalmologists are qualified to make medical diagnoses and perform surgery. 


Ophthalmologists have also completed more post-graduate schooling related to eye care, including an M.D. By specializing in eyes, they have more hands-on experience in severe eye conditions and can recommend specific plans of treatment.


Both professions can assist with your eye health concerns, but depending on the matter, one eye care professional may be a better option to the other. The best way to know whether an optometrist vs. an ophthalmologist would be right for you is to go to an optical center for an initial appointment.

Schedule an annual eye exam with a licensed Independent Doctor of Optometry at For Eyes today. We are here to help.

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