Updated: Sep 5, 2019
I've been an eye care professional for 10 years and I don't think my own relatives know the difference between the words optometrist, ophthalmologist and optician. I understand. They all start with "O" and all these professionals work with eyes...
Because people ask me all the time, and because my own relatives can't get the differences straight, here, laid out before you are the descriptions of each type of eye care provider. I will explain which one you'd want to see and for what purpose.
1) Optometrist: An optometrist is a type of doctor who has a doctor of optometry (O.D.) and graduated optometry school. Optometrists can diagnose and treat medical eye problems like glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, strabismus, amblyopia, conjunctivitis. They can prescribe vision therapy, and lastly they measure and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. Think of Optometrists as the "primary care doctors" for the eyes and visual system. If you are seeing blurry, have eyestrain, or need care for an eye emergency, you probably want to go see and Optometrist first. If you or a child has trouble with reading or learning then you may want to get an evaluation with a "Developmental or Behavioral Optometrist".
2) Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a type of physician who has a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) who graduated from medical school (not optometry school). Ophthalmologists diagnose and treat medical eye problems, and are often surgeons for the eyes. Surgery for the eyes include cataract surgery, strabismus surgery, LASIK surgery, retinal surgery and corneal surgery or transplants. Optometrists will refer patients to ophthalmologists when surgery is indicated.
3) Optician: An optician is an eye care professional who fits, measures, makes, and dispenses eyewear and eyeglasses. They are experts in helping you find the right eyeglasses and what types of lenses to get for your eyewear prescription. Many opticians work in a lab to make glasses too. They cannot however diagnose and treat ocular diseases or other eye conditions.
Now you know the differences between the three O's of the eye care world!