The three Os – Optometrist, ophthamologist or optician

You’ve probably heard the terms optometrist, ophthamalogist and optician, but do you know what the difference is? You may need to see any one of them in your life time, but we wanted to clarify which you would need and when.

Courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery on Flickr

Courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery on Flickr

Here are the three Os:


Optometrists (OD, Doctors of Optometry) examine and treat eyes for both vision and health problems. Optometrists correct refractive errors by prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses, some also provide low vision and vision therapy services. Optometrists also diagnose and treat diseases of the eye and are licensed to prescribe medications to treat eye problems and diseases.

Training for an optometrist includes a four-year undergraduate degree and four years of post-graduate professional training in optometry school. An optional one year residency in a specialty (pediatrics, low vision, contact lenses) is sometimes completed.

When you see them: You should visit an optometrist for your annual eye exam  to receive an updated pair of glasses or contact lenses, and if you have any other eye issues, such as dry eyes, allergies, pain etc.


An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or an osteopathic doctor (DO) who specializes in eye and vision care. In addition to the services provided by optometrists, ophthalmologists are trained to perform eye surgery.

Ophthalmologists generally complete four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship, and a minimum of three years of hospital-based residency in ophthalmology.

When you see them:  Your optometrist will be able to manage and treat the majority of your eyecare needs.  However, your optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist if you require surgical intervention such as cataract surgery or retinal repair, or if you require disease-related specialty care.


An optician is a specialized practitioner (but not a doctor) who uses prescriptions written by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist to select eyeglasses, contact lenses and other eyewear. Opticians are licensed in the State of California.

When you see them: Once you’ve had your annual eye exam and your prescription updated, you may choose to take your prescription to an optician to have new glasses made.

What is low vision?

In this blog article, we’ve asked our guest writer, Gary Asano, OD, Chair of the California Optometric Association’s Low Vision Rehabilitation Section to address common concerns of patients suffering from disease-related debilitating vision.

What is Low Vision?

When you have reduced vision as a result of an eye disease, you can be classified as having low vision.  Those with low vision usually complain of difficulty reading small text, recognizing faces or reading street signs.  An optometrist with a sub-specialty in low vision seeks to maximize the best functioning area of the eye.  This can be done with the use of low vision aids and devices.

MacDegI have just been treated for “wet” macular degeneration by a retinal specialist who said that my vision has now improved from the original 20/200 to 20/60. But my new pair of glasses isn’t allowing me to see as clearly as I would like. Why can’t my vision be corrected to 20/20 with regular glasses? Was my eye treatment/surgery not successful?

When the retina (the part of the eye that receives visual information) is distorted as a result of an eye disease, treatment can improve your vision, but will not restore it to normal. Therefore, you may notice that straight lines may still appear wavy, or that you have dark spots in your vision. Glasses can improve the vision, but will not be able to resolve any distortion or dimming of vision you may already be experiencing. This is where a consultation with a low vision optometrist is helpful to determine what adaptations and aids besides glasses will help you to function better.

“But I have never heard of a low vision optometrist. What can you do to help me with how I see every day?”

dangerous roadsA visit with a low vision optometrist will begin with a complete history of your visual problems and a discussion of your visual goals. For example, your goal may be to read price tags or to view photos of family members. From there, your doctor will determine the low vision aids most appropriate for you to accomplish these goals. The aids can range from standard spectacles to magnifiers and telescopes. Some patients will function better with a particular tint in their lenses to reduce debilitating glare while other patients would benefit simply from increased lighting or working with an occupational therapist to make changes to compensate for visual deficits. Low vision specialists can utilize telescopes and even electronic and computerized magnification aids to help you get through your day. The number of these devices is growing and the timing could not be better with more and more people needing help.

Counseling is also often needed for patients who are grieving and cannot be easily helped at first. We always recommend that you bring along a supportive friend or family member to the evaluation so that we can address all areas of difficulty.

There are few low vision specialists to meet the demand –  it has been estimated that there are only 150 experts in low vision in the entire U.S.  Fortunately, the California Optometric Association Low Vision Rehabilitation Section has 49 optometrists who have a special interest in this field and are ready and willing to help you!

~Gary Asano, OD
Low Vision Specialist

Summer & your eyes: Swimming pools

Yay – Summer is officially here!

School is out and we finally get to spend some serious time in the pool. But before you jump in, here are a few quick safety tips for you and your eyes:

Photo courtesy of Andrew Eick on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Andrew Eick on Flickr

  • The pH of our eyes is 7.2, so can you guess what the recommended pH is for your pool? (hint: it’s 7.2!) Remember to check the pH levels in your pool at least once or twice a week and try to keep it in the range of 7.0-7.6.
  • Chemical conjunctivitis or red eyes can occur due to chlorine exposure in swimming pools. Having a little after a day in the pool is okay, but if it persists into the next day or if it seems to be getting worse, call your optometrist and ask to have your eyes checked that same day.
  • As a general rule, contact lenses should never be worn in the pool. Doing so puts you at risk for a variety of possible infections, including a fungal infection called Fusarium keratitis that is difficult to treat and can lead to permanent blindness. (The only exclusion to this rule is for my daily disposable contact lens patients under the strict condition that their contacts are thrown out as soon as they leave the pool.)
  • Prescription goggles are available and can be fairly inexpensive! If you rely on your glasses to see, talk to your optometrist about prescription goggles for use in the pool.
  • And if you plan to be hanging out around the pool this summer, remember that sunglasses are just as important for protecting your eyes as sunblock is for protecting your skin. Make sure yours have UVA and UVB protection.

Have safe and fun summer!

~Ranjeet S. Bajwa, OD

Summer is coming – protect your eyes while having fun in the sun!

Summer is coming

Most of us understand that we need to protect our skin from UV rays to avoid sunburn and potential sun damage and skin cancer.  But, we often overlook the need to protect our eyes from these harmful UV rays as well.  UV damage can increase your risk of cataract, macular degeneration, pterygium (benign growths on the white part of the eye) and also damage the sensitive skin around the eyes.  The following four tips from the American Optometric Association will help you keep you and your family’s eyes healthy all summer and all year long in the sun.

Here’s what you need to know to protect your eyes:

  1. Wear protective eyewear any time your eyes are exposed to UV light, even on cloudy days and during winter months. Glare from snow on the ground can reflect UV into your eyes.
  2. Sunglasses should block out 99-100% of UVA and UVB radiation and screen out 75-90% of visible light.  Polarized lenses is a good way to do this because they can specifically block out the most prominent light rays while maintaining clear vision.
  3. Grey colored lenses are best. They reduce light sensitivity without altering the color of object and provide the most natural color vision without distortion
  4. Don’t forget your kids! They need sunglasses too as they tend to spend more time outdoors than adults do.

One last tip: Don’t forget about a good quality sunglasses  frame. It should be big enough to protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes from the sun.

Use these tips to keep your eyes safe and healthy through all your outdoor activities.  As always, continue to get routine eye health and vision examinations yearly.

Enjoy the summer!

~Lisa M. Weiss, OD, MEd, FAAO