If your eyes are healthy and don’t require specialized medical or surgical treatment, the type of eye doctor you choose for a routine eye exam is a matter of personal preference.
Optometrists and ophthalmologists both perform routine eye exams and both types of eye doctors are trained to detect, diagnose and manage eye diseases that require medical and non-medical treatment.
If you already have a medical eye problem — such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts — it is important to seek care from an eye doctor who is highly trained and skilled in monitoring and treating your condition. In many cases, this may mean that medical or surgical eye care by a specially trained ophthalmologist is in order. In such cases, your optometrist (or general ophthalmologist) may refer you to a colleague who is a specialist in treating your condition.
Most optometrists offer medical treatment for common eye problems (such as dry eyes and eye infections) and certain chronic eye diseases (such as glaucoma). But certain eye disorders require treatment by an ophthalmologist, particularly if surgery or other specialty care is needed.
In many cases, care for a specific eye problem may be provided by an optometrist and an ophthalmologist working as a team. This arrangement is called co-management.
In co-management, your primary care eye doctor (usually an optometrist) refers you to a specialist (usually an ophthalmologist) for a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan. The ophthalmologist may choose to manage the problem medically, perform eye surgery, or both. After the condition is controlled or surgically treated, the specialist then sends you back to your primary care eye doctor, who continues to monitor and treat your condition or perform post-operative care based on the specialist’s recommendations.
Co-management is a particularly good solution if you are very pleased with the quality of eye care you are receiving from your primary care eye doctor, but you want to have any specific medical eye conditions treated by an experienced specialist.