Your eyes may be one of the tiniest visible organs of your body but what they do is simply spectacular! Therefore, when it comes to eye health – choosing the right eye care provider is crucial. As beautiful as they may look from the outside, on the inside your eyes are extremely complex. So, ensure you make the right choice here. Only a good eye care professional will be able to study and understand your eyes better, analyze the problem and suggest what needs to be done next.
So, first things first, who are the different eye care professionals? To be precise, we have three – optometrists, ophthalmologists, and a third “O” among eye care providers and that is, the optician.
But whom should you consult, an optometrist, ophthalmologist, or an optician? Confused? So were we, before Dr. Ravi R. Viswanathan, Consultant Ophthalmologist, gave us some meaningful insights into it. “In my opinion, there’s not much of a difference between an optometrist, ophthalmologist, or optician because we are all service providers, who bring our own role and expertise to assist you,” he explains. However, there’s a thin line that distinguishes the three and we’re here to tell you just that. Dr. Viswanathan. Adding, “If refractive errors are your concern, then, of course, an optometrist would be the first option for you. If you cannot identify the cause of your vision problems, then you can visit any three of the specialists, who will provide you with a solution based on their expertise.”
Let’s dig a little deeper and find out the differences and similarities between the three types of eye doctors.
Whenever you notice a slight change in vision, constant headaches, or eye discharge, you should visit an optometrist. They are the first eye specialist you will visit for any vision or eye problems. Optometrists provide you with basic vision care that ranges from vision testing and correction to analysis, and treatment. They’re licensed to practice optometry, which primarily involves performing eye exams and vision tests, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, detecting certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye diseases.
Ophthalmologists are medical practitioners who specialize in eye and vision care. They analyze and treat the different types of eye diseases, perform eye surgeries, and prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct vision problems.
While ophthalmologists are trained to take care of all eye problems and conditions, there are few, who further specialize in individual functions. They’re known as subspecialists. A subspecialist completes one or two years of additional training in one of the many subspecialty areas, for example, glaucoma, retina, cornea, pediatrics, neurology, or plastic surgery. This added training and knowledge prepares an ophthalmologist to take care of specific conditions in certain areas of the eye.
Unlike optometrists and ophthalmologists, an optician is a person trained to design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses, frames, and contact lenses. They refer to prescriptions given by ophthalmologists or optometrists and suggest eyeglasses or lens coatings accordingly but do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction. Moreover, they’re not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.
So, who should we consult for different vision problems? Dr. Viswanathan says it best, “Unlike most Western countries where your first person of contact would be a General Practitioner (GP) in India, we do not follow that concept. You’re free to visit any of the three, that is, an optometrist, ophthalmologist, or optician. Whichever is more convenient for you.” He further reiterates, “We are all the same, we are all ophthalmologists, irrespective of whichever field we have specialized in. We don’t categorize ourselves, so you can approach any of us (eye doctors). The bottom line is that no matter who you consult about your vision problems they are sworn by an oath to serve and protect you, guiding you to get the best treatment possible. For instance, consulting an optometrist on laser eye surgery is not wrong, because you will still receive the knowledge, guidance, and a trustworthy referral to the right surgeon or clinic.
A few words of advice from the doctor himself:
Dr. Viswanathan shares something very meaningful with us, he says “Don’t beat around the bush and find a vague solution when you’re not an expert. There’s nothing wrong in visiting a specialist even with the minutest doubt that you have because the problem is yours, not theirs.” He encourages us to seek help even if we have the slightest of doubts, especially in the digital age we live in where anything and everything can be Googled! So, why assume things when there are experts to clear away our doubts and get us the correct treatment. Isn’t that true?
If there’s one thing to take away from our conversation with Dr. Viswanathan is that stress always leads to more problems in your health. He reassures us that if you’re worried about your eye health then what are ophthalmologists like him for? “Live your life and whenever you have a problem, hum hai na,” says Dr. Viswanathan in a calm and comforting tone. That is probably the sweetest thing to hear from someone who we entrust with our health and life.