Ophthalmologist or Optometrist? Understanding Your Doctors’ Expertise and Knowledge

friendly ophthalmologist examining woman's eye

Eye surgery can seem intimidating, perhaps more than other kinds of surgery. A lot is at stake with your eyesight and you want to know your eye surgeon has skills in his or her field of expertise.

This is true whether the surgery is medically necessary – advanced cataract surgery, for instance – or simply desired for a better quality of life, as with a LASIK procedure. There are helpful ways to alleviate that anxiety. An understanding of the extensive education and training that a quality eye specialist undergoes benefits you as the patient.

How Much Education is Required to Be an Eye Surgeon?

Many people aren’t sure of the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists or even whether the difference matters. When it comes to surgery – it matters.

  • Optometrists receive their doctor of optometry (OD) degrees after attending college and four years of optometry school. Optometrists generally provide ongoing health care for your eyes, including eye exams and prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses. Obviously, these are all important skills for general eye care.
  • Ophthalmologists are medical doctors. In addition to four years of college, an ophthalmologist must complete four years of medical school, a one-year internship, and then three or more additional years of medical and surgical training in a residency.

Ophthalmologists are certified by national boards and are licensed by state medical boards. In addition, the American Board of Ophthalmology requires ophthalmologists to recertify every 10 years.

In addition, eye surgeons often specialize in specific areas, which requires more training. Some examples are cataracts, glaucoma, pediatric ophthalmology, dry eye treatment, refractive eye surgery, or plastic and reconstruction surgery around the eye (also called oculoplastics).

What to Expect With the Most Common Eye Surgeries

Understanding the procedures in eye surgery is daunting. It needn’t be, however, especially for some of the most common issues such as advanced cataract surgery, LASIK, dry-eye treatment, and oculoplastics. Here’s an overview of what to expect with each of those:

Cataract Surgery

If you have cataracts, it means that the lens on your eye has become cloudy. The surgeon removes the cataract and typically replaces it with an artificial lens best suited to your eye.

Before doing so, your pupils are dilated with eye drops, and the area around the eye is numbed with a local anesthetic. You may be given a sedative to help you relax, as well. The surgeon typically makes one incision, through which the old lens is removed and the new lens inserted. Cataract surgery is outpatient surgery; you will go home the same day.

LASIK Surgery

LASIK procedures are also performed on an outpatient basis. As in cataract surgery, your eye will be numbed with drops ahead of time. An instrument called a lid speculum is used to hold your eyelid open while your eye surgeon uses an advanced, precision laser machine to cut a tiny flap in the cornea.

Your surgeon will fold the flap back and ask you to stare at a fixed spot for a moment as the laser does its work to reshape the surface of your eye. The flap is then positioned back into place, where it heals.

When you leave, you will have a shield or patch over your eye and will be asked to sleep with it on for a few days to keep from rubbing it in your sleep.

Dry Eye Treatment

Dry eye syndrome occurs when the eyes do not naturally produce enough tears. That lack of moisture causes irritation or inflammation. A person may feel like they have a grain of sand in their eye, or it may sting or burn.

Besides the physical symptoms, dry eye syndrome can interfere with a person’s ability to read, work on a computer, participate in sports or wear contact lenses comfortably. Treatment can take several paths, from artificial tears and medication to a surgery called punctal cautery, which works to close the small circular drainage holes between the corner of the eye and the nose. That keeps tears – and the moisture the eye needs – in the eye for longer.

Oculoplastics Surgery

The word oculoplastics is actually an umbrella term for many different surgical procedures that have to do with the orbit around the eye. Ophthalmologists who specialize in oculoplastics operate on the entire area around the eyes, including the forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, tear ducts, and cheeks.

The reasons for these procedures are often medical and can include tumors and/or trauma from an accident. These surgeries, like surgeries on other parts of the body performed in a hospital, are completed by surgeons using typical surgical instruments.

How Do I Know if My Eye Surgeon Uses the Latest Technology?

First of all, don’t hesitate to ask your surgeon.

If you’re just generally curious, still ask your surgeon first.

Second, do an internet search on your planned procedure to learn more about it and about recent technology. Stick with reputable websites, such as those from universities, hospitals, medical journals, and national boards and associations. Here are pages we suggest from our trusted sources: a list of our trusted sources:

Third, is your eye surgeon a member of a vision center that has a reputation for quality care?

Do an extensive Google search on the brand by searching the brand and doctor’s name. You will likely find listings on third-party sites like Yelp, BBB, Healthgrades, etc. where the public can remark about their experiences. It’s never a bad idea to research your doctor by name as well as fact-check his or her biography information before having them perform surgery on your eyes. If there are any charges or discriminatory claims about your surgeon, you will find them by searching where. You may want to list out questions to ask your eye surgeon, such as has my surgeon performed the same surgery I’m considering many times before?

And lastly ask, what kind of technology does the eye surgeon use, and do I have a choice as to the type of technology? Often an eye center will choose the best option out there and not provide a choice; why would they if they’ve determined one is better than all the others?

In summary:

Knowing what to expect on the day of the surgery helps, too: What equipment will you see, and how will it be used? And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your doctor is there to help.

Have any more questions? Let us help.

Your surgeon should be happy to explain any options to you, discussing the differences in how they affect you and your surgery.  Give a call to the most established family ophthalmology and eye care specialists in Arizona at 1-866-742-6581. Any of our trusted staff will be happy to get answers to any of your questions. You may also contact us online.

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