Chances are, you don’t really think about your eye health until something starts to go wrong. But healthy eyes are important, and your annual eye exam should have the same priority as a yearly check-up at the GP.
Annual eye exams are the best way to address the loss of vision early on—before, say, you’re struggling with painful headaches and eye strain, or desperately trying to read road signs while you’re driving. And they’re also important to detect eye diseases early, before they significantly (and perhaps permanently) affect your eyesight.
Finding the right type of provider can be tough, though, especially since “optometrist” and “ophthalmologist” aren’t exactly as self-explanatory as “family doctor.” Fret not—we’ve got the info you need right here.
Optometrists and Ophthalmologists: What’s The Difference?
Both optometrists and ophthalmologists have gone through years of training, but they have slightly different backgrounds. An optometrist has earned a Doctor of Optometry, gone through a residency to develop their skills in the clinic and have to pass a series to test to earn their license to practice. They’re trained to administer eye exams, can prescribe glasses or lenses to correct your vision, and identify eye diseases and disorders.
Ophthalmologists earn a medical degree—either an M.D. or Doctor of Osteopathy—then go through four to five years of additional training in eye diseases and surgery and a few additional years of residency. An ophthalmologist can test your vision and prescribe glasses or contact lenses, but they can also diagnose and treat eye diseases and perform eye surgery.
Which Provider Should You Choose For Your Annual Checkup?
Since both optometrists and ophthalmologists can handle your yearly eye exam, you can technically go to either one. However, one type of eye doctor may suit your needs better than the other.
If you have healthy eyes, consider booking with an optometrist first. Your optometrist can handle your standard exam without breaking a sweat. And if they notice signs that you have an underlying eye condition, they can refer you to an ophthalmologist for further treatment.
If you have a serious eye condition like cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma, consider booking with an ophthalmologist. Booking an appointment with a specialist could save you the inconvenience of seeing two types of eye professionals, and makes it easy for your ophthalmologist to monitor your condition.
If you’re already seeing an ophthalmologist, you can book with either. If your ophthalmologist has longer-than-ideal wait times for eye exams, you could book with an optometrist and coordinate care between both providers.
Which Provider Should You Choose For Advanced Eye Treatment?
If need treatment for an eye condition, you’ll need to see an ophthalmologist. They’re the only medical professionals with the specialized training needed to diagnose and treat all eye diseases.
How easily you can book an appointment with an ophthalmologist depends partially on your insurance. Some insurance providers may allow you to book with an ophthalmologist directly, while other forms of insurance—including government insurance programs like Medicare—require a referral to cover your appointment. If you need a referral, book with an optometrist or general practitioner first to get one.
Which Provider Should You Choose for Corrective Eye Surgery?
Only ophthalmologists can perform eye surgery—so you’ll see an ophthalmologist for the surgery itself. However, you could book an initial appointment with either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist if you’re interested in learning more about whether vision corrective surgery might work for you. Optometrists often provide vision care before and after surgery and can provide a referral if you need one.
No matter which kind of treatment you need, find your next eye doctor with our provider search. We make it easy to find the right provider—one who’s close by, trained for the care you need and accepts your insurance—and book your appointment quickly online. No more headaches!