Opticians, Optometrists, Ophthalmologists: The Difference

Seeking The Right Eye Care Professional

Did you know that your eyes are the second most complex organ just next to the human brain? Although your eyes are small, their incredibly complex design allows you to send very detailed signals to your brain in a fraction of a second. 

To say that the human eyes are fascinating is an understatement. Most people rely on them every day, and although slightly reduced, they function even when you’re fast asleep.

Hence, taking care of our eyes is important and going for the right eye care professional is a crucial decision to make.

The Three O’s of Eye Care


Sometimes being referred to as a dispensing optician, these are the first people you meet whenever you’re visiting an eye clinic or vision care center. They are like customer service representatives that specialize in Opticianry.

These people are technical practitioners that have undergone optician training and education. For one to be a qualified optician, certain states require certifications, apprenticeships, and/or licenses.

Many of them are capable of interpreting the prescriptions from Ophthalmologists or Optometrists and might set appointments for your next visits. 

They also handle other aspects related to optometry, these practitioners are trained to determine the size and design of your corrective lenses. For one, they can determine the required specifications for the correction of your vision.

Some opticians also specialize in prosthetics for eyes, or ocular prosthesis, a type ophthalmic appliance. A lot of licensed/registered opticians can also fit and dispense other ophthalmic appliances such as frames, contact lenses, low vision aids, spectacles or monocles, as well as eye prosthesis for anatomic, cosmetic, or traumatic defects.

As technical practitioners, they take measurements of the customers, including some parts of the eyes such as the cornea (its thickness, state), and can help customers choose the eyewear that they like the most.

Opticians can have a variety of roles and one of that is ensuring that the vision care center they’re working at is running as smoothly as it could. That’s why many of them are in charge of inventory and other records.

Most opticians can also be consulted for the repair of some ophthalmic appliances such as frames. Although they can detect some eye problems, they do not have the necessary knowledge to treat or provide patient care.


Optometrists are self-reliant practitioners and are considered as the primary vision care providers. They are licensed by their respective states just as a physician would to legally practice medicine.

These independent eye-care professionals need at least 3 yrs of pre-professional undergraduate college (most of them get a bachelor’s degree though). After that, they need to finish 4 years of optometric schools to get their Doctor of Optometry Degree (OD).

During college optometry, the students receive a comprehensive education that is specific to the human eye.

Formerly known as ophthalmic opticians, they are superior vision care specialists who are licensed and trained to determine possible vision-related problems, provide diagnosis, and treat diseases, trauma, and disorders that influence the functionality of your visual system and parts associated to the eye and systemic conditions that might affect it.

Optometrists can administer and interpret general eye tests and examine the patients’ medical history of their eye problems. These licensed professionals can evaluate a patient’s eyesight and provide corrective ophthalmic appliances to achieve the proper vision and eye function.

These medical specialists can also observe the patients for eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other maladies. Though this might be the case, not every state allows optometrists to treat certain eye conditions.

Aside from what has already been mentioned, optometrists can give prescriptions to their patients. Like opticians, optometrists can determine and dispense corrective eyewear and eye accessories that the patient requires. They can also prescribe drugs and medication, provide low vision rehabilitation, administer vision therapy, and –in some states– deliver a minor surgical procedure.


These individuals have further knowledge in the vision-care field. Ophthalmologists are physicians that went through degree programs such as Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).

Like optometrists, ophthalmologists are self-reliant and can practice their specializations after being licensed. They have to attend 4 years pre-med college course, 4 years of medical school, 1 year of internship, and at least 3 years as a resident ophthalmologist at a hospital.

Just like the latter profession, ophthalmologists can prescribe corrective eyewear and medications, give extensive eye exams, and provide in-depth eye-care procedures. What sets them apart from opticians and optometrists is their ability to perform more complex and crucial eye surgeries.

Their background as a general practitioner of medicine supports their specialty in eye-care since various systemic conditions affect the function of the eyes, such as diabetes.

Ophthalmologists can also undergo 1 to 2 years of subspecialty, also called a fellowship program, to even more focus on a certain aspect of ophthalmology.

Subspecialties deal with certain diseases or specialize in eye parts. Some examples are:

Glaucoma – This specialty focuses on optic nerve damage as well as visual field loss and how it can be medically or surgically treated.

Retina/uveitis – Specializes in surgical and laser treatment of diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, and retinal detachments. It concentrates on diseases involving the retina and vitreous or rear parts of the eyes.

Anterior Segment – Anterior/Cornea Segment Specialists are trained and skilled to perform corneal transplants and refractive eye surgeries.

Strabismus/Pediatric Ophthalmology – Heavily focused on the correction of strabismus (crossed eyes) and eye diseases in children.

Oculoplastics – Encompasses a variety of surgical procedures that deals with the reconstructive surgery of the eyes and associated structures.

Neuro-ophthalmology – An intricate and highly complex subspecialty, it requires background on eye-movement patterns, visual pathways, and optic nerve diseases.

Because ophthalmology is a broad specialty, fellowship programs are a detailed practice to refine the professional skills of these eye-care professionals.


So which vision-care practitioner are you going to approach first? Using this article as a guide, you can determine which one you need to consult. If you only need to see an eye-care professional for corrective lenses, then the optician can help you out with it. If you are suffering from other eye problems other than a blurry vision, then you probably should consult an optometrist and if it gets any worse, they would surely recommend you to a specialist.

So whether you go to either of these professionals, you sure will be recommended to the best individual that can help you with your specific eye problem. After all, these 3 professions help each other make you see the world better.


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