Medical News Today: What is ophthalmology?

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Vision tests and eye exams are procedures an optometrist may perform.

Unlike ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians are not medical doctors. However, members of all three distinct professions can, and frequently do, work in the same office or practice.

Optometrists are healthcare professionals who provide primary vision care. Optometrists hold a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree, which requires the completion of 3–4 years of college and then 4 years of optometry school.

While the procedures that they perform vary between states and individual practices or clinics, most optometrists:

  • perform vision tests and eye exams
  • prescribe and dispense corrective lenses
  • help manage and monitor vision changes
  • detect signs of conditions that need subspecialist care, such as glaucoma and cataracts
  • prescribe medications to help manage certain conditions

Opticians are a type of healthcare technician. They are specially trained to help design, confirm, select, or fit corrective vision devices, including contact lenses and eyeglass lenses and frames. Opticians cannot diagnose or treat conditions and must follow the prescription and guidance of optometrists and ophthalmologists.

The other eye healthcare professionals who frequently work with ophthalmologists and optometrists include:

  • ophthalmic medical assistants: these technicians perform many different tests and assist ophthalmologists
  • ophthalmic technicians: these more highly trained or experienced medical assistants help ophthalmologists perform more complex tests and minor office surgeries
  • ophthalmic photographer: these professionals use special cameras and photography methods to create pictures of the eyes that help document eye conditions
  • ophthalmic registered nurse: these healthcare clinicians have specialized nursing training and can help ophthalmologists perform technical tasks, such as assisting with surgeries or injecting medications

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