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What is the difference between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists?

Optometrists and Ophthalmologists - what is the difference?
What is the difference between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists?
16.04.2018 | Education

By Troy Ogden, OD

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists are eye care professionals, but they do not perform the same functions. So, what’s the difference? This is a question we hear often from our patients.

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists are highly trained eye doctors. Optometrists go through an undergraduate program, then four years of optometry school. Ophthalmologists go through an undergraduate program, then medical school, followed by a residency to specialize in ophthalmology. Many ophthalmologists, especially here in northern Nevada, have completed a fellowship to become further specialized in specific areas of the eye, like cornea and refractive surgery or retina.

The three full-time providers at Downtown Vision – Drs. Cardona, Ogden and Yoki — are all licensed optometrists.

Generally speaking, optometrists are primary eye care doctors and ophthalmologists are medical doctors specializing in the eye. The main difference is an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine and perform surgery. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can conduct eye exams and prescribe glasses or contact lenses. When a patient’s case is complicated, most optometrists will refer to an ophthalmologist.

Think of it like this: Your optometrist is your first and primary caregiver for eye care, much like a primary care doctor is your first and primary caregiver for check-ups and minor illnesses. When things get complicated or illness becomes severe, your primary care doctor refers you to a specialist, just as your optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist if your eye care issues grow too complicated for their expertise. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can write prescriptions for medications to help heal the eyes.

Optometrists in Nevada are licensed to treat the following conditions:

  • Pink eye
  • Red eye
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Glaucoma
  • Corneal or conjunctival foreign bodies
  • Herpes infections of the eye
  • Dry eye
  • Routine eye exams for diabetics and patients with high blood pressure, especially when controlled

Optometrists in Nevada are licensed to monitor macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. These patients are not required to see an ophthalmologist for their yearly exams.

At Downtown Vision, we regularly make referrals to ophthalmologists, but we also treat many common ailments and problems of the eye every day. We have good working relationships with area ophthalmologists, enabling us to make the correct referral when appropriate.

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