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Eye Health Resources for Consumers

Medicare Advance Beneficiary Notice (ABN) Booklet - Explains what an ABN is and when you may be asked to sign one for services not covered by Medicare.

Statement From the American Academy of Ophthalmology Regarding Circle Lenses




Ask An EyeMD


Did Your Eye Doctor Go To Medical School?

How is an Ophthalmologist different from other eye care providers?

Ophthalmologist:

An ophthalmologist (also known as an "Eye M.D.") is a physician (Doctor of Medicine, M.D., or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, D.O.) who specializes in the examination and treatment of the eyes.

To become an ophthalmologist, one must attend medical school after college and serve an internship in general medicine. After the internship, the individual must complete a residency program in ophthalmology which is generally three years long and includes between 5,000 and 15,000 contacts with patients.

Though most ophthalmologists practice what is known as "general" or "comprehensive" ophthalmology, some choose to specialize in a particular part of the eye (such as the retina or the muscles around the eye) or type of condition or disease (such as glaucoma). If the ophthalmologist wishes to specialize, he or she must complete a fellowship of an additional year or more.

A common misbelief about ophthalmologists is that they are not primary eye care providers. That is simply not true. Ophthalmologists provide total eye care, from performing a check up to managing a complicated disease.

Ophthalmologists...

    • check vision for abnormalities and disease
    • prescribe glasses and contact lenses
    • treat all eye conditions and disease, including those of the surrounding flesh, bones, and muscle with surgery (conventional and laser surgery), medications, etc.
    • are trained to diagnose other conditions and illnesses based on symptoms evident in the eyes and refer patients to the appropriate physician for treatment

Optometrist:

An optometrist (Doctor of Optometry or O.D.) is not a medical doctor, but is trained to diagnose and treat certain eye abnormalities, and prescribe, supply, and adjust eyeglasses and contact lenses. The optometric education consists of two to four years of college and four years in an optometric college. In Kentucky, qualified optometrists may prescribe and administer limited drugs to treat eye disorders.

Optician:

An optician measures, fits, adjusts and dispenses eyeglasses that are prescribed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Opticians cannot examine the eyes for disorders or prescribe eyeglasses and cannot prescribe or dispense contact lenses and medication.

What does "board-certified" mean?

Board certification means that an ophthalmologist, an Eye M.D., has taken and passed rigorous examinations which cover all aspects of medical and surgical eye care. These examinations are voluntary. An ophthalmologist does not have to be board-certified to practice. The American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) is the main certifying body for ophthalmologists in the United States. Medical specialty boards -- including the ABO -- are accredited by an "umbrella" organization that sets standards for certifying physicians.

What does "subspecialist" mean?

A general ophthalmologist provides comprehensive eye care. While all ophthalmologists specialize in treatment of eyes, some choose to concentrate in a more specific area. This is usually after completing a fellowship. Some subspecialists focus on treatment of a particular disease, such as glaucoma. Others may specialize in a specific part of the eye like the retina or the cornea, or in a particular field such as pediatric care.

When should a child have the first eye exam?

All children should have a first eye exam by age 3 or 4 to screen for amblyopia (sometimes referred to as lazy eye syndrome). This screening is a vision test that is usually performed in a pediatrician's office during a routine check-up. Once a screening has been performed, a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist is recommended, should an abnormality be detected.

Parents may be unaware of the development of amblyopia because the eyes may appear to have straight alignment. If not detected until after age 6, amblyopia may be difficult or impossible to treat, but if detected in early childhood, it is easily treated by temporarily patching one eye.

When should I see an ophthalmologist?

A comprehensive ophthalmologist can provide all your eye care needs. Recommended intervals for eye examinations are as follows:

  • Newborn, pre-school and pre-teen: By pediatrician, family doctor or ophthalmologist.
  • 20-39 years of age: African Americans, because of greater risk for glaucoma, should be seen every 3-5 years. Others can be seen less frequently.
  • 40-64 years of age: Every 2-4 years.
  • 65 years or older: Every 1-2 years.

You should have your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist if you have any of these problems:

    • Decreased vision, even if temporary;
    • New floaters (black "strings" or specks in the vision);
    • Flashes of light;
    • Curtain or veil blocking vision;
    • Haloes (colored circles around lights);
    • Eye pain;
    • Redness of the eye or skin around the eye;
    • Eye discharge or tearing;
    • Bulging of one or both eyes;
    • Crossed eyes;
    • Double vision;
    • Diabetes;
    • Family history of eye disease.
    • You should also see your ophthalmologist if you are referred by your family doctor, pediatrician, or internist.