What Are The Differences Between Ophthalmology And Optometry?

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What are the differences between ophthalmology and optometry? And what are the differences between an ophthalmologist, an optometrist, an oculist, or an optician? Or are they all one and the same?

These essential questions need clarification if you need help from a vision professional.

With this article, we’ll help you resolve any doubts, making it easy for us to choose the appropriate vision professional at any given moment.

Let’s start with the first difference that will help build a foundation: the difference between health and medicine.

According to the National College of Opticians-Optometrists:

Medicine is the science that deals with the study of diseases.

And health sciences are: responsible for studying how to avoid these diseases.

Health is not medicine, nor does it refer to the absence of disease. In fact, medicine’s success depends on the failure of health.

Did you know?

MEDICINE studies diseases, and HEALTH studies how to avoid diseases.

Having clarified the difference between Health and Medicine, let’s begin by making two other distinctions:

  • Ophthalmology
  • Optometry
  • Ophthalmologist – Oculist
  • Optometrist and optician

What is Ophthalmology?

Ophthalmology (from the Greek ὀφθαλμός [opthalmós], ‘eye’, and the suffix -logía, ‘treatise’, ‘study’, ‘science’, and this from the Greek prefix -λογία [loguía]) is described as ‘the medical specialty that studies diseases of the eye and their treatment, including the eyeball, its musculature, the lacrimal system, and the eyelids’.

Ophthalmology is the medical-surgical specialty related to the diagnosis and treatment of defects and pathologies of the visual apparatus.

Some eye diseases require pharmacological treatment as they are infectious, inflammatory, or allergic processes, and other diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma, or myopia, for example, may require surgical intervention.

What Is An Ophthalmologist? What Is An Oculist?

Ophthalmologists and oculists refer to the same person: a professional who has studied for a university degree and obtained a degree in medicine and surgery.

They have specialized in ophthalmology from a MIR examination (an examination required of doctors to gain access to specialized training).

Their role is to deal with the diagnosis of eye diseases, as well as disorders, ailments, and their prevention.

Why is there confusion thinking that an Ophthalmologist and an oculist are different vision professionals and have different roles?

It is likely due to the word’s etymology: Ophthalmologist comes from Greek, and oculist from Latin.

Since they are one and the same medical professional, Ophthalmologist and oculist are synonymous words.

The Ophthalmologist or oculist, specialized in ophthalmology, may, in turn, specialize in one of the branches of ophthalmology to treat a particular area of the eye.

  • Some of these subspecialties are: Retina, cornea, glaucoma, pediatric surgery, refractive surgery, cataract, neuro-ophthalmology, or oculoplastic.

The functions of the Ophthalmologist are:

  • Visual examination and testing,
  • The diagnosis of ocular pathologies
    As well as the medical and surgical treatment of these, with the application of laser or surgery,
  • Implantation of intraocular lenses,
  • Prescription of medicines
  • And the prevention of eye problems.

What is Optometry?

On the contrary, optometry (from the Greek ὄψ “eye” and μέτρον “measure”) is the discipline that is responsible for the primary care of the health of the eye and visual system through prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and correction of refractive, muscular and accommodative defects.

It can detect and correct visual anomalies such as astigmatism, myopia, hyperopia, or strabismus.

Optometry also deals with the adaptation and control of contact lenses and the rehabilitation of the visual system in order to prevent, detect and solve visual problems.

What Is An Optometrist?

The optometrist is a health professional who has graduated from university in optometry and, therefore, has specialized in the correction of refractive problems, the process of perception of the eyes, and the relationship of these with other activities such as learning, work, or leisure.

In other words, the optometrist is the primary healthcare professional in charge of:

Preventing, detecting, and solving vision problems and not only focusing on refractive problems but also on other aspects of learning and visual development, as well as the binocular state of the eyes, posture, and reading distance, among others.

As we can see, the optometrist is not included within the branch of medicine but within the area of health sciences and is closely related to other specialties such as physics, biology, anatomy, psychology, ergonomics, neurology, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology.

The functions of the optometrist are:

  • Performing eye examinations to detect refractive visual disorders,
  • Prescription and adaptation of contact lenses and glasses,
  • Observing the correct functioning of image focusing (accommodation),
  • Detection of visual, ocular-sensory-motor, and perceptual loss,
    Training, visual and behavioral therapy,
  • As well as the prevention of ocular injuries and anomalies.
  • The optometrist can also be found in a clinic or in a hospital and work alongside an ophthalmologist.
  • Or focus on research studies in specific areas, such as physical optics or geometrical optics,
  • The study, design, and development of optical parts or ocular microbiology.

What Is An Optician?

The optician is not a health professional. You can describe the optician as a vision professional tasked with carrying out the prescriptions for glasses and lenses given out by the optometrists or ophthalmologists. An optician is in a way the technician of the vision sector.

An optician will essentially sell you the eyewear that was prescribed by the optometrist or ophthalmologist. 

Differences Between the Ophthalmologist and the Optometrist

The main difference is that the optometrist is not a medical doctor. Therefore, they cannot diagnose or treat eye diseases, prescribe medications or put any drugs in the patient’s eyes.

The Ophthalmologist usually focuses more on the treatment of the pathology, and the optometrist on the evaluation of vision.

Although both professionals have different functions and studies, they maintain a very close relationship and ideally complement each other and work together.

It is also true that some of their functions may sometimes overlap.

Normally, it will be the optometrist who will be the first to detect an anomaly, and it will be at that moment of detection of disease or pathology of the visual system that the optometrist will refer the patient to the Ophthalmologist so that they can treat and diagnose the disease.

And it is possible that after an ophthalmologic examination, the Ophthalmologist will refer us again to an optometrist with the intent to carry out a follow-up of the treatment or therapy.

Differences Between Ophthalmology and Optometry

In conclusion, the main differences between ophthalmology and optometry are as follows:

  • Ophthalmology is a medical specialty that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases.
  • Optometry, on the other hand, is a discipline focused on the primary care of ocular health and the visual system.
  • Ophthalmology is a medical training, so the Ophthalmologist or
  • Ophthalmologist can perform surgery and prescribe medications.
  • Optometry, in turn, is a study that limits the optometrist to diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the eye and visual system.
  • Optometrist is not a medical doctor but a health professional who focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and correction of refractive, muscular, and accommodative defects.
  • Ophthalmology has certain areas of specialization, such as retina or refractive surgery, among others.
  • Optometry has other different specialties, such as low vision or contact lenses.

Remember that an Ophthalmologist is allowed to do everything an optometrist does.