When looking for an eye doctor, one important consideration is the type of doctor you need. There are two types of eye doctors: optometrists and ophthalmologists.

To start, an optometrist is an eye doctor who has earned the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. They examine eyes for both vision and health problems and correct refractive errors by prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Optometrists are also licensed to prescribe medications to treat certain eye problems or diseases. They may also participate in your pre- and post-operative care if you have eye surgery performed by an ophthalmologist. With only a few exceptions, optometrists in the U.S. are not trained or licensed to perform eye surgery.

An optometrist generally must complete a four-year college degree program in the sciences, plus four years of post-graduate professional training in optometry school. Optometrists are required to fulfill continuing education requirements on an ongoing basis to maintain their licensure and stay current with the latest standards of eye care.

On the other hand, an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are trained to perform eye exams, diagnose and treat disease, prescribe medications and perform eye surgery. They also write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Ophthalmologists generally complete four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship, and a minimum of three years of hospital-based residency in ophthalmology.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists both perform routine eye exams and both types of eye doctors are trained to detect, diagnose and manage eye diseases that require medical and non-medical treatment. The education of an optometrist is similar to that of a general dentist, but the education and training of an ophthalmologist are more similar to that of an oral surgeon.

If your eyes are healthy and don’t require specialized medical or surgical treatment, the type of eye doctor you choose for a routine eye exam is a matter of personal preference.

If you already have a medical eye problem, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts, it is important to seek care from an eye doctor who is highly trained and skilled in monitoring and treating your condition. In many cases, this may mean that medical or surgical eye care by a specially trained ophthalmologist is in order.

Most optometrists offer medical treatment for common eye problems, such as dry eyes and eye infections, and certain chronic eye diseases, such as glaucoma. However, certain eye disorders require treatment by an ophthalmologist, particularly if surgery or other specialty care is needed.

In many cases, care for a specific eye problem may be provided by an optometrist and an ophthalmologist working as a team. This arrangement is called co-management.

In co-management, your primary care eye doctor (usually an optometrist) refers you to a specialist (usually an ophthalmologist) for a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan. The ophthalmologist may choose to manage the problem medically, perform eye surgery, or both.

After the condition is controlled or surgically treated, the specialist then sends you back to your primary care eye doctor, who continues to monitor and treat your condition or perform post-operative care based on the specialist’s recommendations.

Co-management is a particularly good solution if you are very pleased with the quality of eye care you are receiving from your primary care eye doctor, but you want to have any specific medical eye conditions treated by an experienced specialist.

At Kentucky Eye Institute, we have both optometrists and ophthalmologists and would love to help you in any way we can! Find a Kentucky Eye Institute office near you today.