Optometrist vs ophthalmologist vs optician

Getting the best value for your money when it comes to eyeglasses, sunglasses, eye exams, and contact lenses.

Postby george » Thu Jun 17, 2010 9:27 pm

As I was responding to a question posted in another thread, I realized it would be better to create a completely separate thread about the differences between different types of eye doctors. The person in that post had used the word optician when they meant optometrist. Here's clarification on the terms:

An optician is not an eye doctor. An optician can not write a prescription, but will help fit and adjust eyeglasses. An optician usually just has to attend a 2 year college or do a special apprenticeship. There really isn't much education needed.

An optometrist (or OD) has attended 4 years of post-graduate training after college. Optometrists can do eye tests and eye exams, and fit glasses and contact lenses. They can also prescribe some basic medications. An ophthalmologist (I will never remember how to spell that word) is a medical doctor who went to 4 years of medical school after college and then completed a residency in ophthalmology. They can do surgery in addition to prescribing all medications and doing eye exams, etc.

When you go to get a normal eye exam and get fitted for glasses, you most likely will see an optometrist. Unless you have special eye problems, you wouldn't need to see an ophthalmologist.
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Postby peaches » Wed May 17, 2017 11:12 pm

George, I know your post is almost seven years old now, but I wanted to thank you for posting these definitions. I've been looking at many websites and videos recently, as I just got a new eyeglass prescription (after a few years too long since the last one). I wanted to familiarize myself with what kinds of lenses and coatings are available now.

In my family, we have always used an ophthalmologist for our "eye doctors." I started with one as a child, due to having strabismus ("lazy eye"), and in those days they performed surgery for that more commonly than now. A couple of my siblings also had this condition, and also had surgery, so we got in the habit of going to ophthalmologists for our eye care. Now that I am much older, I've had some other eye issues and much prefer seeing a medical doctor for my eye exams. No offense to optometrists, as I'm sure they are fine for many, if not most, people.

My previous (now retired) ophthalmologist detected a serious condition in my last exams with him, for which he referred me to a retina specialist practice. I'm glad to say that that condition resolved itself, but since I've never used an optometrist, I'm not sure if one would have detected it. I don't know if they use the same instruments beyond the basic eye exam tools (my ophthalmologist had to get out a different tool to confirm what he thought he saw in my eye), or have the same training to detect such a problem.

In looking at various sites, videos, and forums, I have found many instances of opticians and optometrists called "eye doctors." I know optometrists are Doctors of Optometry, but as you pointed out, opticians are not doctors. My former ophthalmologist was a single doctor in his own private practice, and did not sell glasses. My new ophthalmologist has the same arrangement. I have taken my children (yes, they inherited their parents' eye conditions) to a pediatric ophthalmologist, who did not sell glasses. But, when he retired, he recommended another pediatric ophthalmologist, who was in a group of other ophthalmologists, and that practice does sell glasses. I suppose it is a much more common thing now for doctors' offices to sell glasses.

As for opticians, we used to use one in our area that was a small family business. There was no optometrist involved. I had my last two pair of glasses done with progressive lenses by those opticians, and all they asked me is "do you want polycarbonate" (vs. glass, I guess) and, after showing me a card displaying what an anti-reflective coating would do, "would you like the coating." I said yes to the polycarbonate and no to the coating. There was no pressure for any upgrades. Those folks have also retired, so I've been looking for a non-chain optician, preferably without a hard sell as some chain stores have, or even without an optometrist involved.

Tne staff at the one independent optician shop I've visited so far helped me choose some frames, but then pushed the higher level lenses and coating (Varilux Physio with Crizal Sapphire coating); the cost, with discounts, was over $800 for one pair - much more than I am willing to pay. Thus, I began my research so I will be prepared for the next store. I plan on trying to get either Zeiss Precision Pure or Precision Plus, or Varilux Comfort or Comfort DRx, either made of Trivex material, depending upon the costs (the last place thought my current lenses were Zeiss). I've never had any coatings, so won't miss anything, and we'll see how much that helps the pricing. Since I'm used to progressives, and I've read many reports about how it's not advisable to get progressives via an online store, I will end up at some brick and mortar store.

Postby george » Sat May 20, 2017 9:06 pm


Thank you very much for sharing your experience. You do have a somewhat unique situation, with seeing an ophthalmologist for your routine eye exams and then taking your prescriptions elsewhere. Have you considered asking your ophthalmologist's office who they recommend for purchasing glasses? If you find a store that sells those particular lenses at a reasonable price, please share your experience! I think a lot of people would like to purchase a high quality progressive lens without having to pay a fortune.

$800 for a pair of glasses seems crazy. If they were clearly superior, I could understand, but I'm still a skeptic that a Varilux lens would be significantly better than my $130 progressive lenses I got from Costco.
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