It’s important to understand who to turn to when you have eye problems, especially since seemingly inconsequential issues with one’s eyes can be an indicator of a more serious issue:
Ophthalmologist. A medical or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. This type of eye care specialist holds a medical degree and, in addition, will have at least eight years of specialized medical training. Licensed to practice medicine and perform surgery, an ophthalmologist treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery, and prescribes and fits eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems.
Optometrist. Not a medical doctor, but an optometrist does hold a doctor of optometry (OD) degree after having completed at least three years of college followed by four years of optometry school. This healthcare professional is licensed to practice optometry, which involves performing eye exams and vision tests, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, detecting abnormalities in the eyes, and prescribing eye medications.
Optician. A technician trained to design, verify, and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight. An optician does not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction, nor allowed to diagnose or treat eye diseases.
Knowing the difference among the three can help guide you towards the right professional to see for your eye or vision problems. If you’ve been having eye troubles, the first step to setting things right is seeing a qualified professional – usually an optometrist is the first person to see – to have an eye exam.
The optometrist will gather detailed knowledge to determine the health of your eyes, the standard of your vision and any other special requirements you may have. The optometrist will identify and recommend the best form of vision correction suited to your individual lifestyle and visual needs. Glasses or contact lenses will be prescribed, if required, or you could be referred to an ophthalmologist for the medical treatment of (often more serious) eye conditions or for procedures that require surgery.
Myopia or nearsightedness is the most common refractive error of the eyes. Studies by the National Eye Institute (NEI) shows that prevalence of myopia has grown from 25% of the US population in the early 70s to nearly 42% as recently as the early 2000s. Because the eye does not bend or refract light properly to a single focus that enables the eyes to see images clearly, close objects look clear but distant objects appear blurred. Myopia is a common condition, but it is an eye focusing disorder rather than an eye disease. Doctors believe that the prevalence of myopia today is mainly caused by eye fatigue from computer use and other extended visual tasks.
If you suffer from myopia, you may typically have difficulty reading road signs and seeing distant objects clearly. You will, however, be able to see well for reading, computer use, and other close-up tasks. If you find yourself squinting, or experiencing eye strain and headaches, or feeling fatigued when driving or playing sports, these could all point towards uncorrected myopia or nearsightedness.
Myopia is more typically treated in children, as studies have shown that corrective treatments to slow the condition’s progression are more effective on children and young adults. Read on to discover more in Part II.