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April 21, 2021

Do you Know the Difference Between an Optician, an Optometrist, and an Ophthalmologist?

When it comes to your health, especially your eyes, being informed is essential. With vision care, patients are often uncertain which health professional delivers which service. The three eye care professionals that we will discuss and define are Opticians, Optometrists and Ophthalmologists. As a patient, understanding the role and the services offered by each of the three professionals will help you get great eye care, know what questions to ask, and work with your health care provider to determine appropriate solutions that work for you.

Opticians

Opticians are the eyecare professionals that fit, adjust and dispense prescription and non-prescription eyewear.  Opticians are often referred to as the “pharmacists of eye care”: they do not perform eye exams nor prescribe, but they can fill your prescription. Whether you need your prescription filled, your current glasses adjusted, or new or replacement contact lenses, an optician can assist you with these needs.  Opticians in Ontario are regulated by the College of Opticians of Ontario.

When you visit an optician for corrective lenses, you should bring a copy of your prescription. If your prescription has expired, significant time has passed since your last full eye exam or there is a concern with the health of your eyes, the optician may recommend that you visit an optometrist for a full eye exam

You can expect that your optician will ask you about your lifestyle and the type of work that you do to recommend the appropriate solutions for you. Your optician will help you select frames and lenses for your eyeglasses based on fit, the type of prescription that you have, and your lifestyle. Opticians can also fit you for new contact lenses, or refill an existing prescription for contact lenses.

Optometrists

Optometrists are often referred to as “eye doctors”. Optometrists perform eye exams to check the overall health of your eyes and issue prescriptions for corrective lenses.  Optometrists also dispense eyeglasses, contact lenses or subnormal vision devices. Optometrists in Ontario are regulated by the College of Optometrists of Ontario.  

When you are visiting an optometrist, you can typically expect your appointment to begin with questions about your medical history as well as questions about your vision. An accurate health history plays an important role in your overall eye health as some medical conditions, such as diabetes, can have a significant impact on your vision. During your exam, your optometrist will perform a number of checks including visual acuity (how well you can see letters/symbols from a distance), your ability to see colour, and your depth perception, retinal health and the pressure inside your eyes. The optometrist may use eye drops to dilate your pupils to help them detect conditions such as cataracts or other diseases.  These exams do not generally cause significant discomfort, but your eyes may be overly sensitive to light for a few hours.

Ophthalmologists

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye health and related diseases. Ophthalmologists undergo additional post-graduate training that qualifies them to treat eye diseases both medically and surgically. Ophthalmologists in Ontario are regulated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

Ophthalmologists provide surgical solutions to common eye problems such as cataracts, and monitor eye conditions like glaucoma as well as performing laser corrective surgery.  Ophthalmologists can also perform eye exams and dispense corrective lenses, but patients typically won’t see an ophthalmologist unless an optometrist identifies a concern during a regular eye exam. When visiting an ophthalmologist, be prepared to answer questions about your medical history including medications. Again, your visit may include dilation drops, so it is a good idea to plan on a ride home from your appointment in case you experience light sensitivity.

Take Care of Your Vision

Now that you know which eye care professional to contact in which circumstances, the key is ensuring that you are visiting them regularly!


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