An optometrist is a doctor who has received specialized training in
the diagnosis and treatment of abnormalities of the eye. Traditionally
optometrists have been particularly well trained at refraction, the
process of determining a prescription for eyeglasses, and "functional"
optometry, which examines and treats the teaming of the two eyes.
This is often referred to as binocular functioning. Generally, optometrists
perform complete eye examinations to test a persons vision, the functioning
of their visual system, the quality of their binocular vision, and
the health of the eye.
Visual problems are generally corrected through the use of glasses
or contact lenses. Functional problems of the eye or eyes are treated
with eye exercises and/or glasses.
Optometrists examine the internal and external structure of the eyes
to diagnose eye diseases, systemic diseases and vision conditions.
Optometrists also do testing to determine an individual's ability
to focus and coordinate the eyes, and to judge depth and see colors
They prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses, low vision aids, vision
therapy and, in most states medicines to treat eye diseases.
After undergraduate college, optometrists complete an additional four
years at an accredited school or college of optometry. Optometrists
must also pass an examination and have a state license to practice.
Opticians are allied health professionals, trained to manufacture,
fit and dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses and low vision aids
upon the doctor's written prescription. Opticians provide specialized
services and a wide range of products, utilizing technological advances
in frames and lenses to precisely fit each eyewear consumer
An ophthalmologist is a physician -- either a medical doctor (M.D.)
or a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) -- who specializes in eyes. Ophthalmologists
are qualified to diagnose, manage and treat all optical, medical and
surgical disorders of the eye and visual system.
They may perform surgery and prescribe medications. Ophthalmologists
may also prescribe contact lenses and glasses and recommend the use
of eye exercises (orthoptics) to preserve or restore vision.
Their training includes four years of medical school, one year of
a medical internship and three or more years of a residency in ophthalmology.
At what age should I have my children's eyes examined?
The American Optometric Association's guidelines suggest children
should have a screening by age 6 months, a full exam at age 3, and
regular yearly examinations beginning at age 5 and continuing throughout
the school age years. The most common problems at a very young age
are related to eye turns (in or out), and are generally treated before
age 2 or 3.
However, if you have any reason to suspect your child has an eye problem
you should contact an eye doctor, regardless of the child's age. Most
doctors will examine a child 1 year or older, and many examine infants.
If not, they will recommend someone.
How often should I get my eyes examined?
As a practical matter, an exam every 1-2 years is adequate assuming
your eyes are healthy and you are between 20 and 50 years of age.
Your general health has a large impact on this question. For example,
if you are diabetic you need an exam no less than once a year, and
possibly more often. After 50, an eye exam every year is a good idea
because glaucoma testing becomes more important. If there is a family
history or any signs of glaucoma you should start yearly examinations
by age 35. This does not mean those under 35 are "safe" from glaucoma
but it is rare in young people.
If you are a contact lens wearer you should be examined yearly or
more frequently depending on your contact lens wearing schedule.
Always follow your doctors advice on how often you should be checked.