One common source of confusion when deciding where to go for an eye-related problem is: What’s the difference between an optician, an optometrist, and an ophthalmologist? Here’s an explanation of which professional does what.

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Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, or Optician

An optician is a specialist who helps fill prescriptions for eyeglasses. Opticians are trained to fit eyeglass frames to your facial features and order the proper prescriptions in your lenses. They also can fit you for contact lenses and train you to insert and remove them. Opticians usually work in retail eyeglass locations and sometimes in an optometrist’s or ophthalmologist’s office.

An optometrist is a specialist who is a Doctor of Optometry. Optometrists are licensed to give eye exams and make diagnoses of eye- and vision-related conditions. An optometrist can write prescriptions for contact lenses or eyeglasses. An optometrist, however, does not perform any type of eye surgery.

An ophthalmologist is a specialist who is medically and surgically trained to treat eye conditions. Ophthalmologists hold medical degrees, have completed residencies, and are usually fellowship-trained in their field. They are certified to meet the full spectrum of eye care and vision needs, from prescribing contacts and eyeglasses to performing surgery.

“Optometrists are often the doctors patients will see for routine vision care, as well as when there is an acute change in vision or status of the eyes,” explains Ian Conner, MD, an ophthalmologist at the UPMC Vision Institute, who sees patients at the UPMC Outpatient Center in Bethel Park and other locations. “They can diagnose and treat many common eye diseases but are also critical in making the appropriate referral to an ophthalmologist when a patient has a more serious problem. As a medical doctor and surgeon, an ophthalmologist can offer more specialized treatments to the patient.”

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.