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The Specialists of Sight: Who, When & Why?

Most of us will encounter problems with our eyes or sight in our lifetime. This means that at some point, you are likely to reach out to an eye care specialist who will be able to diagnose and treat any problems. Ophthalmologists, Optometrists, Opticians, and Orthoptists are all professionals who work in the eye care field, but each have different roles and levels of training.

Understanding each role within your eye care team will give you full transparency and the ability to make informed decisions about your treatment.


Firstly, we have Opticians, shortened from Dispensing Optician. Your Optician will provide advice regarding the best choice of frames or lenses for your prescription, as well as carrying out repairs and fittings for your glasses. Opticians can also support in the fitting and aftercare of contact lenses, known as Contact Lens Opticians.

Dispensing Opticians complete a General Optical Council (GOC) approved two-year diploma, followed by a one-year placement and qualifying examinations that enables them to offer advice on various eye related problems.

When should you speak to an Optician: For any concerns or questions regarding your eyewear. E.g. glasses adjustments, choosing frames or general advice regarding your prescription.


Optometrists, on the other hand, are healthcare professionals who have completed an undergraduate / university degree in their specialist area. They typically undergo four to five years of optometry school. Optometrists undergo a period of specialist training in practice under the guidance of a mentor, which lasts somewhere between one and two years.

Optometrists primarily provide vision care services, including routine and emergency eye examinations, prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses, diagnosing and treating certain eye conditions (like refractive errors, dry eye, red eye and eye infections), and providing pre and post-operative care for patients undergoing eye surgery.

In the UK, further higher-level specialist qualifications allow an Optometrist to prescribe medications for conditions of the eye plus eye area (adnexa) and perform minor procedures, once they have attained the Independent Prescribing (IP) qualification.

When should you speak to an Optometrist: For eye exams, prescription glasses, contact lens, or vision correction advice such as relating to laser eye or lens replacement surgery. Further, the Optometrist is the first port-of-call for any eye concerns you may have. They will perform check-ups, examine any changes to your eyes and can pick up general health concerns for the examinations they perform.


Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialise in eye and vision care. They have completed medical school, a specialist training in ophthalmology (typically lasting seven years in the UK) and may pursue further sub-specialty training through fellowships, such as in cataract, glaucoma or cornea (the outer window of the eye). They are licensed to practice medicine and surgery and can diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform eye surgeries (including laser eye and cataract surgery), prescribe medications and provide comprehensive eye care.

When should you speak to an Ophthalmologist: For medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases or refractive disorders. Your Optometrist will refer you on to assess the best possible treatment for your condition, should this be necessary.


Finally, we have Orthoptists, allied health professionals who specialise in diagnosing and treating disorders of eye movements and binocular vision. They typically hold a Bachelor of Orthoptics degree, although some may pursue further education.

Orthoptists commonly work closely with Ophthalmologists to assess and manage conditions such as strabismus (eye misalignment), amblyopia (lazy eye), and other binocular vision disorders. They perform various diagnostic tests, provide non-surgical treatments (like eye exercises and patching therapy), and assist in the management of patients before and after eye surgeries related to eye muscle disorders.

When should you speak to an Orthoptist: For disorders of eye movements and binocular vision. Orthoptists also commonly work with patients with neurological conditions, such as stroke, brain tumours or multiple sclerosis.


Navigating all the O’s can sometimes feel like you’re seeing double, but hopefully you’re on the way to seeing things that little bit more clearly.

You may encounter one or perhaps all of these specialists at some point, depending on your eye care journey. You can have every confidence that at each stage of your care, you will be in the hands of someone highly trained in getting you back to seeing your best.

Our Clinical Services Director Stephen Hannan explained, “All of these specialities can work separately and together in the care of patients. The role of the Optometrist has changed significantly through the course of the last 5 to 10 years and will change again in the next 5 to 10 years. Today the Optometrist with specialist qualifications that allow for the prescribing of prescription only medications is the GP for the Eyes.”

If you are experiencing any vision or eye problems, book an eye exam today or visit your local Optical Express clinic.