Knowing the difference between the various specialties in the eye care industry can be confusing, especially given the fact that they all start with the same letter and in many ways sound alike.

So, here’s a breakdown of the different monikers to make life a little less confusing for those wanting to get an eye exam.

Ophthalmologists

Ophthalmologists (pronounced “OFF-thal-mologists”) are eye doctors who went to four years of undergraduate university, four years of medical school and four to five years of ophthalmic residency training in the medical and surgical treatment of eye disease.

Many ophthalmologists then go on to pursue sub-specialty fellowships that can be an additional one to three years of education in areas such as cataract and refractive surgery, cornea and external disease, retina, oculoplastic surgery, pediatrics, and neuro-ophthalmology.

Ophthalmologists are licensed to perform eye surgery, treat eye diseases with eye drops or oral medications, and prescribe glasses and contact lenses.

Optometrists

Optometrists are eye doctors who went to undergraduate university for four years, then went on to optometry school for four years.

Many optometrists choose to pursue an additional year of residency after optometry school, though this is not a requirement for licensure. Optometrists are licensed in the medical treatment and management of eye disease, and prescribing glasses and contact lenses. The ability to prescribe varies by state law.

In some states, optometrists can perform certain minimally invasive laser surgical procedures, but on the whole, optometrists do not perform eye surgery. In addition, optometrists usually have different sub-specialties from ophthalmologists, including vision therapy, specialty contact lenses, and low vision.

The analogy I use most often in comparing optometrists to ophthalmologists is that of a dentist and oral surgeon. Many people choose to have optometrists as their primary eye care provider doctor for medical treatment of eye disease, but when surgery is needed, they are referred to the proper ophthalmologist.

Opticians

Opticians specialize in the fitting, adjustment, and measuring of eye glasses. Some states require that opticians are licensed, and others do not.

If you have any questions about which professional is the right fit for your needs, check with your eye-care professional’s office and they’ll be happy to answer them for you.

Article contributed by Dr. Jonathan Gerard

This blog provides general information and discussion about eye health and related subjects. The words and other content provided on this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician. The content of this blog cannot be reproduced or duplicated without the express written consent of Eye IQ.

Who is Charles Bonnet?  He was a Swiss naturalist, philosopher, and biologist (1720-1793) who first described the hallucinatory experiences of his 89-year-old grandfather, who was nearly blind in both eyes from cataracts.  Charles Bonnet Syndrome is now the term used to describe simple or complex hallucinations in people who have impaired vision.  

Symptoms

People who experience these hallucinations know they aren't real.  These hallucinations are only visual, and they don't involve any other senses. These images can be simple patterns or more complex, like faces or cartoons.  They are more common in people who have retinal conditions that impair their vision, like macular degeneration, but they can occur with any condition that damages the visual pathway.  The prevalence of Charles Bonnet Syndrome among adults 65 years and older with significant vision loss is reported to be between 10% and 40%.  This condition is probably under reported because people may be worried about being labeled as having a psychiatric condition. 

Causes

The causes of these hallucinations are controversial, but the most supported theory is deafferentation, which in this case is the loss of signals from the eye to the brain; then, in turn, the visual areas of the brain discharge neural signals to create images to fill the void.  This is similar to the phantom limb syndrome, when a person feels pain where a limb was once present.  In general, the images that are produced by the brain are usually pleasant and non-threatening.

Treatment and prognosis

If there is a reversible cause of decreased vision, such as significant cataract, then once the decreased vision is treated, the hallucinations should stop.

There is no proven treatment for the hallucinations as a result of permanent vision loss but there are some techniques to manage the condition.  Give these a try if you have Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

  • Talking about the hallucinations and understanding that it is not due to mental illness can be reassuring.
  • Changing the environment or lighting conditions.  If you are in a dimly lit area, then switch on the light and vice versa. 
  • Blinking and moving your eyes to the left and right and looking around without moving your head have been reported as helpful.
  • Resting and relaxing.  The hallucinations may be worse if you are tired or sick.
  • Taking antidepressants and anticonvulsants have been used but have questionable efficacy. 

Over time, the hallucinations become more manageable and can decrease or even stop after a couple of years.

If you experience any of these symptoms, please get evaluated by your eye doctor to make sure there is not a treatable eye condition.  Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed—your issue is likely caused by a physical disturbance and we are here to help!

Article contributed by Jane Pan

This blog provides general information and discussion about eye health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician. The content of this blog cannot be reproduced or duplicated without the express written consent of Eye IQ.

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