What’s an Optometrist?
According to the American Optometric Association, an optometrist is a primary health care professional trained to examine, diagnose, and treat eye conditions, as well as manage injuries, diseases, and disorders related to the eye and its associated structures. They are also trained to identify systemic conditions that can affect the eye.
Optometrist Vs Ophthalmologist Vs Optician
While they are primary vision care providers, optometrists are not medical doctors. They receive their Doctor of Optometry degrees after accomplishing four years in optometry school, a time preceded by at least three years in college. Optometrists are mostly involved with carrying out vision tests and eye exams, detecting eye abnormalities, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, and prescribing medication for diagnosed eye diseases.
Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, are medical doctors. This means they received more training, with a minimum of eight years in additional medical training received after completing college. Like optometrists, ophthalmologists can diagnose eye conditions and prescribe corrective lenses. However, they can perform surgical procedures as well, which optometrists are not licensed to do. Ophthalmologists can also choose to further specialize in certain areas of eye care, like pediatrics and plastic surgery.
Opticians are more of technicians than medical professionals, trained and tasked with designing, verifying, and fitting eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other devices aimed at correcting eyesight. They refer to prescriptions made by optometrists and ophthalmologists in crafting corrective lenses but do not write prescriptions themselves. Opticians are also not trained and licensed to diagnose and treat eye conditions.
Visiting an Optometrist: What to Expect
An eye exam typically lasts between 20 and 30 minutes. However, it can take longer if your optometrist deems that you need additional tests. Having to stay longer may sound like an inconvenience but keep in mind that this is for the sake of your eye health and general well-being.
Getting your eyes checked will cover a few stages, starting with a discussion as to why you are there. You don’t necessarily need to have a problem to schedule a visit but it is crucial for your optometrist to know if you are there because of a routine checkup or you are concerned about a specific issue. If it’s the latter, make sure you provide as many details as possible, such as what symptoms are you experiencing and how long you’ve had them.
During the discussion, your optometrist will also talk to you about your general health and activities, asking if you’re taking any medications currently, suffering from headaches, or have a history of eye problems in the family, as well as for information on your previous eyeglasses or contact lenses and the kind of work you do, the sports you play, and the hobbies you have.
The Eye Exam
An exam will cover both your eyes’ inner and outer structures so your optometrist can properly assess your eye health, as well as if other underlying medical conditions are present. For your eyes’ interior, an ophthalmoscope will be used. A special torch, the ophthalmoscope shines light through the pupil, detailing the eyes’ interior structures like the lens, optic nerve, and retina. The device also tests for pupil reflexes.
The use of an ophthalmoscope may be done on top of the usual reading test, where you read letters off a chart, that optometrists carry out. Your optometrist will also check for eye movement and coordination to ensure your eye muscles are not unnecessarily stressed. Good muscle balance is important if you read or use the computer a lot.
If you’re looking to wear contact lenses, note that you will have to undergo extra tests for fitting and assessment purposes.
The end of an eye examination is another opportunity for you to talk to your optometrist about any concerns you might have, especially about any of the tests that was just carried out on you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! At this point, your optometrist already has an idea of your eyes’ general state so they should be able to provide you with any clarifications you might need, including vision correction options available to you.
Before you part ways with your optometrist, you will be provided with instructions for the next course of action you will be taking depending on the current condition of your eyes. If you need corrective glasses or contact lenses, for instance, you will be given a prescription. If you have an eye condition requiring medical attention, you will be referred to a specialist.
Correcting Eye Problems
You have the freedom to have your prescription dispensed wherever you choose. However, there is benefit in getting your prescription dispensed where you got your eyes checked as the prescription and dispensing processes are closely linked. Should any problems arise, it is more difficult to resolve the issue when your prescription and your glasses or contact lenses are supplied by two different places.
Let your optometrist and optician know right away if you are feeling any discomfort wearing your new glasses or contact lenses. This way, adjustments can be made immediately to not only ensure your comfort but that your prescription is working as it should to address your eye problems.
Your optometrist should have given you a target date for your next appointment but keep in mind that you don’t have to wait until that day to get your eyes checked again if you’re having trouble with your vision. The typical eye exam is scheduled every two years but the frequency of check-ups may vary depending on your age, current eye condition, and medical history.
Like with other health check-ups, an eye check is best done routinely. Even when you’re not having problems, you should make time for a check-up because your eyes’ condition is integral to your overall health. Take advantage of the options available to you so you can more conveniently care for your eye health, but rust only reputable optometrists in your area to guarantee the best level of care for your eyes.