Eye Doctors: Optometrists & Ophthalmologists

Similar to medical care professionals such as family doctors and surgeons, eye care also has different doctors depending on the type of treatment that is needed. The two types of doctors responsible for optical care are Optometrists and Ophthalmologists.

How do these professions differ? Why do you have to see a different doctor for different problems? In this article, we explain the difference between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists, what they do and when to see them.

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Understand The Difference Between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists

Depending on what treatments you need to address your eye health concerns, you will need to visit a specific doctor. You will notice that with age, your regimen and needs will change.  Consequently, the medical professional responsible for your care will provide direction and referrals. Understanding the roles of an Optometrist and Ophthalmologist will provide clarity and insight to ask the right questions at the right time. 


Optometrists provide vision and eye care that is applicable to all individuals. The primary services they provide are related to regular eye health and maintenance.  This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Eye exams and vision tests
  • Prescriptions for glasses and contacts
  • Monitoring and proactive treatment for any potential visual complications associated with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes
  • Treatment of basic eye conditions such as glaucoma and dry eyes
  • Providing vision therapy and aids for depleted vision

Optometrists are the most popular doctor associated with optic health services because the services they provide are broader and commonly needed. Their education consists of an undergraduate degree and four years of specialized education to receive a doctor of optometry. If desired they can also participate in clinical training or a fellowship to further their education. 


Ophthalmologists provide specialized eye care services that involve a higher degree of medical practice. The issues they address are more complex and less common than those of an optometrist. These services include:

  • Vision services, such as eye exams
  • Medical eye care to treat conditions such as iritis and chemical burns
  • Surgical eye care to address problems like eye trauma, crossed eyes, cataracts, and glaucoma
  • Diagnosis and treatment of conditions associated with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and arthritis
  • Surgery for droopy eyelids and excessive wrinkles

The education an ophthalmologist receives is comparable to a medical doctor. After completing the required prerequisites, they attend medical school. Following their theoretical education, they complete an internship and a three-year residency to gain an immersive experience. Ophthalmologists may elect to complete one or two-year fellowships. 


Optometrists And Ophthalmologists: Both Valuable for Eye Health

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists provide crucial services for eye and vision care. It is the complexity of treatments they provide and the education that differentiates them. It is not always apparent as to who you should visit, but it is common for optometrists to refer patients to ophthalmologists once specialized or extended care is required. If you are experiencing uncomfortable experiences pertaining to your vision or eyes, consult your optometrist to determine the best course of action. 



Can an ophthalmologist be a primary care doctor?

Ophthalmologists are considered specialists within the field of eye and vision health and are responsible for different treatment services. If you are in need of services from a primary eye care doctor, visit an optometrist to seek direction. 

Should I see an ophthalmologist or optometrist?

If you are not experiencing any severe eye health issues and do not have any pre-existing eye conditions requiring you to see an ophthalmologist, ask your optometrist for direction. If they determine a need for you to see a specialist they will refer you accordingly. 

How often should I visit an optometrist?

If you do not have any immediate concerns regarding your eye health or vision, you should visit your optometrist every one to two years. During these visits they will conduct basic eye tests to ensure your eyes are healthy and your vision has not changed. If there are any changes you may be required to see your optometrist more frequently depending on their recommendations. 


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Blink Eyewear boasts the largest collection of eyewear in Calgary, but our 3 locations are also home to the region’s finest optometrists. Just as you will not find a better store to shop for your eyewear, you will not find a better vision clinic to do your eye exam or treat your eye condition. 

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