This section provides basic information about eye care providers and eye exams.
Getting an eye examination
Regular eye examinations are important for maintaining eye health. An eye exam is also the first step for someone interested in wearing contact lenses. Eye examinations for contact lenses are called contact lens fittings, and they are different than regular eye exams. During a contact lens fitting, your eye care provider will determine what contact lens is right for you depending on the shape and size of your eye, as well as your lifestyle needs. Contact lens fittings are mandatory for anyone interested in wearing contacts, even people who do not have a vision problem and just want to wear color contacts.
To set up an eye exam, you’ll need to contact an optometrist or ophthalmologist. When you schedule your eye exam, be sure to ask if your eye care provider will give you a copy of your contact lens prescription after your exam. Many eye care providers are reluctant to release prescriptions. If your eye care provider’s office will not release prescriptions, you might want to find another office. Having a copy of your contact lens prescription allows you to purchase contacts any place you choose and to shop around for the best prices.
You have a right to your contact lens prescription (click here for more on this topic).
Ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians receive varying levels of training and have different responsibilities as eye care providers.
Ophthalmologists: An Eye M.D. is an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. Eye M.D.s are specially trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, from prescribing glasses and contact lenses to complex and delicate eye surgery. Many Eye M.D.s are also involved in scientific research into the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision problems. In addition to four years of medical school and one year of internship, every Eye M.D. spends a minimum of three years of residency (hospital-based training) in ophthalmology. During residency, Eye M.D.s receive special training in all aspects of eye care, including prevention, diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment of eye conditions and diseases. Often, an Eye M.D. spends an additional one to two years training in a sub-specialty, that is, a specific area of eye care (for example, glaucoma or pediatric ophthalmology.) Many (but not all) Eye M.D.s are board certified. A board certified Eye M.D. has passed a rigorous two-part examination given by the American Board of Ophthalmology designed to assess his/her knowledge, experience and skills. The following are sub-specialties in ophthalmology:
- Cornea and External Disease
- Ophthalmic Pathology
- Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery
- Pediatric Ophthalmology
- Retinal and Vitreoretinal Diseases
Optometrists: Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.
- Doctors of Optometry prescribe medications, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses, contact lenses, and perform certain surgical procedures.
- Optometrists counsel their patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options that meet their visual needs related to their occupations, avocations, and lifestyle.
- An optometrist has completed pre-professional undergraduate education in a college or university and four years of professional education at a college of optometry, leading to the doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree. Some optometrists complete an optional residency in a specific area of practice.
- Optometrists are eye health care professionals state-licensed to diagnose and treat diseases and disorders of the eye and visual system.
Opticians are trained technicians who specialize in the preparation and fitting of eyeglasses, contact lenses and other ophthalmic devices. They cannot perform eye exams. Opticians may or may not be required by state law to be licensed, and national certification is optional.