What is the difference between an Optometrist, Ophthalmologist and Optician?

What is the difference between an Optometrist, Ophthalmologist and Optician?

Queens Optometrist - Queens OphthalmologistBelieve it or not, this question is one of the single most common questions in eye care. In fact, many doctors don’t even know the difference! So here it is simplified:

Optometrists are eye doctors who are trained in managing conditions called “refractive errors,” such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and double vision. They can prescribe an array of refractive tools such as glasses, contact lenses, magnifiers, and prisms. They attend 4 years of optometry school, but they do not go to medical school.

They often diagnose conditions, such as glaucoma, retinal detachments, cataracts, etc., however, they do not TREAT these conditions. Once they suspect someone has an eye condition, they send the patient to an OPHTHALMOLOGIST for treatment.

Ophthalmologists are eye doctors as well, however, they have gone to medical school and have earned an M.D. Just like an optometrist, they can prescribe glasses and contact lenses, but they can also prescribe medications, perform laser surgery and operate on the eye. They are medical and surgical doctors.

Opticians are people who sell eyeglasses. They are not doctors.


  1. Thank you for the post-Dr. Haller! I learned a lot about the difference between an optometrist, ophthalmologist, and optician. I like how you very clear when you said that”Opticians are people who sell eyeglasses”. I know that I have bad vision so knowing that an Optician is where I go to buy the glasses will help me to save a lot of unnecessary trips in the future.

  2. That’s really interesting to know the differences between the two eye doctors. I’m really glad to know that they can diagnose conditions like glaucoma and retinal detachments. I have a buddy who is having some eye pains and he did not know where to go, but now I can point him in the right direction. Thanks for the informative post!

  3. My dad has been having issues with his eyesight lately and just found out that he needs to see an ophthalmologist. I didn’t know that they are eye doctors as well as well as surgeons. I’m glad that my dad’s ophthalmologist is so skilled and experienced. Thanks for the useful info!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I was wondering why my eye doctor referred me to an ophthalmologists. I now realize that they are the ones who actually do the work on your eyes. That is a very important job. I do not trust just anyone with the care of my vision.

    • Dr. Tod Haller, MD says:

      Thank you so much. I am glad it helps and I am thankful that you read my post.

  5. I am so glad I found this article because I have always wondered what the difference is between all the names of eye professionals. From what I gather here, ophthalmologists need more education than the other two types because they deal more intensely with eye health rather than just check-ups; is that correct? I will remember this when I move to my new home next month. I will have to look for a new eye doctor, and this really helped me know what to look for.

    • Dr. Tod Haller, MD says:

      Thank you for your time and input. Good luck with your move and I hope all is well.

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