Different types of eye professionals: What they do and how they can help

Here’s an overview of what these specialists do, and how they are qualified to help treat your or a family member’s specific condition:

What is an optometrist?

Optometrists manage comprehensive eye care including evaluations for glasses and contact lenses and common eye diseases.

“They play a role in monitoring chronic conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes,” says Danielle Natale, O.D., an optometrist at The Krieger Eye Institute (KEI).

They can also treat acute eye problems such as pink eye or sties.

The biggest distinction between ophthalmology and optometry, Natale says, is surgery.

“Optometrists often approach vision concerns in a way that focuses on function, which leads to many specializing in specialty contact lenses, binocular vision and the use of prism, and low vision,” she adds.

What is an ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists, in addition to diagnosing and treating all eye diseases and prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses, are licensed to perform eye surgery.

After college, ophthalmologists complete four years of medical school, followed by an additional four years of residency training. Some also pursue another one to two years of fellowship training.

Ophthalmologists can prescribe topical or systemic medications for various eye diseases.

They can also recognize other systemic health problems and refer patients to the appropriate medical doctors for further treatment.

What is a pediatric ophthalmologist?

Pediatric ophthalmologists are specially trained to examine and treat children of all ages and abilities, but especially those who are unable or too young to read the letters on an eye chart.

“To make the environment more child-friendly, ophthalmologists will often play games with the patients or show them movies during their exam,” says Samantha Feldman, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist at KEI.

They treat conditions such as amblyopia, strabismus (eye misalignment), eye infections, nasolacrimal duct obstructions and pediatric cataracts.

At a typical office visit, they perform vision assessments, motility examinations, refractive error measurements, biomicroscopy and comprehensive dilated fundus examinations that look for specific ocular conditions like strabismus and cataracts as well as the presence of eye disease linked to diabetes, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and genetic abnormalities.

What is an orthoptist?

Many people are unfamiliar with what orthoptists do. There aren’t many of them in the United States (only around 400, according to the American Association of Certified Orthoptists).

Orthoptists aren’t doctors; they assist physicians in the provision of surgical and non-surgical treatment for disorders of the visual system with an emphasis on binocular vision and eye movements.

They typically help with conditions including strabismus, amblyopia, and double vision (treatments they help administer include patching therapy, prisms, and convergence exercises, among others).

Uniquely skilled in diagnostic techniques, orthoptists work in various environments: hospitals, clinics, private offices, even academic institutions. They help evaluate patients of all ages, but most often children.

What is an optician?

An optician also is not a doctor and thus is not qualified to treat or diagnose eye conditions.

Rather, an optician designs and fits eyeglass lenses and frames for patients according to prescriptions from ophthalmologists and optometrists.

KEI is unique in that its staff comprises each of these specialists, even an orthoptist.