Ophthalmology is the medical area that studies, diagnoses, and treats conditions that affect the eyes.  Ophthalmologists, the doctors who help patients with eye maladies, may consult physicians in other departments (like neurology, oncology, and internal medicine) because some eye conditions are related to diseases that affect other bodily systems as well.

What Is the Difference Between An Ophthalmologist, An Optometrist, and An Optician?

Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians are three different professions. An ophthalmologist has completed four years of medical school and a three-year residency program. Because of their medical degree, ophthalmologists are qualified to examine eyes, diagnose eye diseases, prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses, and perform eye surgeries such as cataract removal. Optometrists provide eye exams and prescribe corrective lenses and medication. Opticians use ophthalmologist and optometrist prescriptions to create glasses for patients.

What Are Some Examples of Symptoms and Illnesses That Ophthalmologists Treat? What Procedures Might They Perform?

Among the conditions that an ophthalmologist may treat are:

  • severe conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • glaucoma
  • sty (an infected hair follicle or gland on, under, or near the eyelid that results in a painful bump)
  • double vision
  • macular degeneration
  • strabismus (being cross-eyed)
  • floaters (the appearance of blurry spots "floating" in the person's field of vision)
  • retinoblastoma (a cancer of the retina)
  • dry eyes
  • retinal detachment
  • scleritis (when the white part of the eye becomes inflammed)
  • blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)
  • retinitis pigmentosa (a degenerative retinal disease)
  • keratitis (corneal inflammation)
  • blindness
  • chalazion (when a lump forms on the eyelid because an oil gland is blocked or inflammed).

Ophthalmologists may perform LASIK (laser) vision correction surgeries and may remove aged or damaged cataracts and replace them with an artifical or donor lens. They extract tumors in or near the eye in addition to numerous other procedures.

What Subspecialties Might an Ophthalmologist Choose to Practice In?

Ophthalmologists can choose to specialize in a subspecialty area.  The subspecialty areas include cornea and external disease, cataract and refractive surgery, glaucoma, uveitis (an inflammation of the eye) and ocular immunology, vitreoretinal diseases, ophthalmic plastic surgery, pediatric ophthalmology, neuro-ophthalmology, and ophthalmic pathology.   

What Kind of Medical Training Does an Ophthalmologist Complete? How Long Does It Take?

Ophthalmologists who practice in the United States are board certified through the American Board of Ophthalmology. Board certification in ophthalmology requires a medical degree in either allopathic (MD) or osteopathic (DO) medicine, a one-year internship where the physician is responsible for direct patient care for at least six months.  During the internship, doctors work primarily with patients in internal medicine, neurology, pediatrics, surgery, family practice, and emergency medicine. After the one-year internship, the physician completes a three- to four-year residency program in ophthalmology, which prepares the ophthalmologist to treat eye diseases. 

What Professional Affiliations Might An Ophthalmologist Have?

Ophthalmologists are often members of professional organizations like the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Medical Association, and the American Osteopathic Colleges of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. Ophthalmologists may also work with public health organizations to help screen populations for glaucoma and cataracts, educate the public about eye care and disease, and provide services for low-income communities.

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