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Ophthalmology and Optometry

The distinction between ophthalmology and optometry is a frequent source of confusion. In addition to the fact that both are concerned with eye care, several other factors contribute to this misunderstanding. One source of confusion stems from the fact that optometrists are often referred to as eye doctors although, unlike ophthalmologists, they do not have medical degrees.

In addition, as a result of recent legislation state-by-state, organized optometry has been able to expand the powers of various state optometry boards, which then license optometrists to prescribe and administer diagnostic and therapeutic pharmaceutical agents. As a result, organized optometry has politically self-defined an optometrist to be a "primary eye care provider."

An optometrist receives a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree and is licensed to practice optometry, not medicine. The practice of optometry traditionally involves examining the eye for the purpose of prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, and screening vision to detect certain eye abnormalities. In comparison, the scope of an ophthalmologist's practice is much broader. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in all aspects of eye care including diagnosis, management, and surgery of ocular diseases and disorders. This is the reason many ophthalmologists refer to themselves as Eye M.D.s. Eye M.D.s also routinely carry out many of the same tasks as optometrists and, although there are almost twice as many practicing optometrists as Eye M.D.s, about one fourth of the nation's refractions and eye examinations are performed by Eye M.D.s.

The difference between the training of an optometrist and that of an Eye M.D. underscores the difference in the range of practice. An optometrist may have only seven years of post-high school training, consisting of three to four years of college and four years in an optometric college. An Eye M.D. receives a minimum of 12 years of education, which typically includes four years of college, four years of medical school, one or more years of general clinical training and three or more years in a hospital-based eye residency program, often followed by one or more years of subspecialty fellowship. Beyond refractive errors, optometrists have limited exposure in training to patients with eye disorders or health problems. Didactic training in medical, pharmaceutical and ocular subjects averages approximately one year. In contrast, Eye M.D.s have a full medical education, followed by extensive clinical and surgical training in ophthalmology, with thousands of hours devoted to the care and treatment of sick patients.

Read more at "EyeSmart".

Amblyopia - A general term that denotes poor vision in an otherwise healthy eye, which cannot be corrected by eyeglasses or contact lenses. This condition is often referred to as "lazy eye".

Amblyopia (organic) - Visual loss due to disease in the retina, or in the visual pathway between the retina and the brain.

Amblyopia (toxic) - Loss of visual acuity from excessive toxic substances such as tobacco, alcohol, or drugs.

Astigmatism - Distorted vision typically caused by an irregular shaped cornea. When the cornea is not perfectly spherical in shape, two different points of focus may be formed in the same eye, creating distorted and blurred vision. Astigmatism often accompanies myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness). Astigmatism can be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Cataract - A condition of the crystalline lens, in which the normally clear lens becomes clouded or yellowed, resulting in blurred or foggy vision. Cataracts may be caused by aging, eye injuries, disease, heredity or birth defects.

Farsightedness - see Hyperopia

Glaucoma - Increased pressure in the eye, caused by abnormally high production of fluid or a decrease in the eye's ability to drain that fluid. Untreated, permanent damage to the optic nerve and possible blindness if untreated. Chronic glaucoma occurs gradually, is painless, and has few warning symptoms. Acute glaucoma is marked by sudden, severe pain in and around the eye, sharply decreased vision, nausea, and vomiting.

Hyperopia (farsightedness) - Condition in which the eye focuses light rays behind, rather than on, the retina, resulting in difficulty in seeing near objects clearly, while distant objects appear in focus.

Macular Degeneration - Damage or breakdown of the macula, the central point of focus on the retina. It is usually caused by aging as the tissues in the eye thin and begins to break down. Symptoms include loss of color vision, a dark or empty area in the center of the visual field, or blurred vision in that area.

Myopia (nearsightedness) - Condition in which the eye focuses light rays in front of, rather than on the retina, resulting in near objects being seen clearly and distant objects being blurred.

Nearsightedness - see Myopia

Ophthalmologist - A medical doctor (M.D. or O.D.) who specializes in treating diseases of the eye and eye surgery.

Optician - One who fits, fabricates, and dispenses eyeglasses. An optician fills prescriptions for eyeglasses and other optical aids as specified by either optometrists or Ophthalmologist.

Optometrist - A board certified doctor of optometry (O.D.), licensed to examine eye disease and other abnormalities of the eye, to administer certain medications, and to prescribe and dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses as well as other optical aids.

Presbyopia - Loss of the eye's ability for "accommodation" (focusing on near objects) with age. Occurring in one's early forties, we often have to hold menus and books at arm's length in order to read. Presbyopia can be treated with eyeglasses.

Strabismus - Misalignment of the two eyes, in which they point at different positions. Strabismus is more common in children and eyeglasses, vision training, and/or surgery can correct it.