When people use the term "eye doctor," they can actually be referring to two different kinds of professionals. There are optometrists, who conduct basic eye exams, assess visual acuity, and prescribe glasses and contacts. Then, there are ophthalmologists, who are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of complex eye disorders, and some of whom perform eye surgery. Most people can see either type of doctor for their normal, annual eye exams, but what are some signs you definitely need to see an ophthalmologist?
You have a family history of serious eye disorders.
If glaucoma, macular degeneration, or another serious eye disorder runs in your family, then it is a good idea to see an ophthalmologist. Many of these diseases have a genetic component, even if they are not 100% inherited, and so it's important to be tested for them early on when treatment is the easiest and most effective. Ophthalmologists are best equipped to test and treat such eye diseases.
You have diabetes.
Diabetes, even if it is well controlled, increases your risk of various eye diseases, but especially diabetic retinopathy, a condition in which the retina at the back of the eye begins to deteriorate. It will be important to have an ophthalmologist look over your eyes and do some testing. Most diabetic patients need to have this done once a year.
You've been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
High blood pressure and glaucoma often go hand-in-hand. Glaucoma is often caused or made worse by high blood pressure, and it is a serious disease that can lead to vision loss and even blindness, particularly if it is not caught and treated early. Anyone who has been diagnosed with high blood pressure should really see an ophthalmologist so that glaucoma does not go undetected.
You're considering corrective eye surgery of any type.
Procedures like LASIK and PRK are becoming more common, and they usually allow patients to leave glasses and contacts behind. The first step, if you're interested in these procedures, is to have your eyes fully evaluated by an ophthalmologist. They can tell you whether or not you are a candidate, based on your eye health and the shape of your eyes.
Ophthalmologists offer more complex, in-depth, and specific care than optometrists. If any of the situations above ring true for you, then it is a good idea to head to an ophthalmologist for an appointment.