Choosing an eye doctor is an important health care decision. Your eye doctor will help you see as clearly as possible and protect your vision — the sense people say they most fear losing — for a lifetime of clear eyesight.
The first step in your decision is to understand there are two types of eye doctors — optometrists and ophthalmologists — and to know the differences between the two.
An optometrist is an eye doctor who has earned the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree and specializes in eye and vision care. To become an optometrist in the United States, a candidate typically must earn a four-year college degree in the sciences and then attend an accredited school or college of optometry and obtain a four-year OD doctorate degree.
With few exceptions, optometrist eye doctors are not trained or licensed to perform eye or vision surgery.
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in eye and vision care, including providing comprehensive medical care and management of eye problems, as well as performing eye and vision surgery.
A paediatric eye doctor — also called a children's eye doctor or a kids' eye doctor — can be an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.
A paediatric optometrist typically specializes in the normal development of vision in children and in vision therapy to treat lazy eye (amblyopia), minor eye alignment and teaming problems (binocular vision disorders), and learning-related vision problems. [Read more about paediatric optometrists.]
A paediatric ophthalmologist typically specializes in the surgical treatment of significant misalignment of the eyes (strabismus) and other childhood eye and vision problems (e.g., congenital cataracts).
For routine eye exams and contact lens fittings, most people choose an optometrist. Therefore, most prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses are written by ODs.
If you have needs beyond a routine eye exam or contact lens fitting, the following table lists which type of eye doctor is likely the best choice for your specific needs.
An important consideration when choosing an eye doctor is the recommendation of friends, family members and co-workers. Word-of-mouth referrals often provide the best way to find a friendly, competent and caring eye doctor and avoid unpleasant surprises when you seek eye and vision care.
If you need specialized eye care, the optometrist or general ophthalmologist that provides routine eye exams for you and your family will be able to refer you to an appropriate specialist for specific eye health and vision needs.