Should You See an Ophthalmologist or an Optometrist?


Differences Between an O.D. and an M.D.

Knowing who to see for the eye care you need is important when you have an eye health concern. Ophthalmologists and optometrists do overlap professionally in certain areas of service, such as eye exams and vision tests, leaving some patients confused over which eye care professional they need to see. A simple distinction to make between the two fields would be in licensure: Ophthalmologists are licensed to practice medicine; optometrists are licensed to practice optometry.

A more nuanced distinction would be on diagnoses and/or surgical treatments of the eye. Because ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs), they are trained to diagnose all eye diseases as well as to surgically treat patients dealing with an ocular disorder or disease. Optometrists, on the other hand, primarily focus on vision care and correction to a vision change diagnosis. Both professions will prescribe corrective lenses or eyeglasses as well as medications for certain eye diseases, and examine a patient’s eyes carefully to look for eye abnormalities.

From a credentialing perspective, an optometrist receives a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree upon completion of an undergraduate degree and four years of optometry school. An ophthalmologist, or MD, receives many more years of education and training, including an undergraduate degree, typically in a health-related field, and at least eight years of additional medical and eye residency training. Often, ophthalmologists continue their training to specialize in specific areas of medical or surgical eye care, such as glaucoma, retinal repair, cornea transplants, cataracts, and others.

While there are differences between the two eye care fields, the primary similarity between an OD and an MD is that practitioners in these two professions have the health of their patients’ eyes in their best interest. So, when should you seek out the help of an ophthalmologist?

Make an Appointment with an Ophthalmologist

It is good to be aware of eye sight issues, symptoms, and health risk factors that may indicate you should seek an ophthalmologist’s care. Additionally, if you have received a diagnosis of any of the medical conditions below, we recommend you make an appointment with an ophthalmologist as soon as possible:

Eye Issues

  • Dark curtain or veil that blocks your vision
  • Decreased vision, even if temporary
  • Distorted vision
  • Double vision
  • Excess tearing
  • Eyelid abnormalities
  • Halos (colored circles around lights)
  • Bulging of one or both eyes
  • Injury to the eye
  • Loss of peripheral (side) vision
  • Misaligned eyes
  • New floaters (black “strings” or specks in the vision)
  • Flashes of light in the eye
  • Pain in the eye
  • Unusual red eye

Medical/Health Issues

  • Family history of eye disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Thyroid disease-related eye problems such as Graves’ disease

Thank you to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) for source material provided in this blog.

ECI follows AAO eye care guidelines in recommending that “everyone see an ophthalmologist for a complete medical eye exam by age 40.”

Please contact us to schedule an appointment. ECI has offices in Santa Rosa.

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If you have an emergency please call the office directly at 707.546.9800
All emails will be responded within 1 business day.

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