If you're used to seeing an optometrist for eye exams and minor complaints, an ophthalmologist may seem like a specialist you wouldn't need unless you were referred to one by your optometrist. But there are times when you shouldn't go to the optometrist first if you have an eye problem. Optometrists check eye health and vision, prescribe glasses and contacts, and handle minor eye health issues. But ophthalmologists, while they can also do eye exams and prescribe glasses, do much more with eye health, including performing surgery when necessary. If you notice certain eye problems, you should head straight to an ophthalmologist.
You're Experiencing a Sudden Change in Vision
If you've noticed a gradual change in your vision, it's time to go to the optometrist for an eye exam. But if you notice a sudden change in your vision, like sudden blurry vision or double vision, or if the sight in one eye suddenly seems different from the sight in the other eye (and you don't have pre-existing prescriptions that are different for each eye), get to an ophthalmologist as soon as you can. Something is affecting your physical eye structure in that case, and you need to have it diagnosed. It is possible that it's something like dry eye, of course, but you do not want to assume anything because it could also be something like a detached retina. Get it checked out.
You've Suffered an Eye Injury
If something got in your eye and won't go away, or something hit your eye, an ophthalmologist is the best person to go to. Things get into people's eyes a lot that don't require that level of care, like eyelashes. But those can be carefully removed without help. If something is stuck in your eye and causing irritation, an ophthalmologist can take care of it. Any eye injury needs medical attention, and while an optometrist could check it out, it's better to go straight to an ophthalmologist and avoid having to have a second exam.
You See a Physical Change in or Around Your Eye
If you notice a physical change in your eye, like a pupil is dilated for no reason, or the whites look funny, that's a job for an ophthalmologist. This specialist can take care of infections and diagnose other problems that could be causing physical changes to your eyeball, eyelid, and the surrounding area. Optometrists can handle smaller issues, such as ingrown lashes. But more involved issues are the realm of an ophthalmologist.
If you go to an optometrist, they'll still check out what's going on. But you may be referred to an ophthalmologist if the condition is beyond what optometrists do, such as surgery. It's often easier to just go to the ophthalmology service first.
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