What is an Ophthalmologist and What Do They Do?

Are you starting to have blurry vision or feel the need to get your eyes checked? Then it’s time to head to the eye doctor! But wait, is it the optometrist or ophthalmologist you’ll have to go to?

While both these practitioners are all about understanding eyes, and some of their areas do overlap, they are very different and the terms are NOT interchangeable. 

So, what is an ophthalmologist and what do they do for you? Whether you’re looking for an ophthalmologist Brisbane or want to learn more about their field, read on to find out!

What is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor able to perform surgery and also provide services optometrists do. They are also able to carry out eye-related procedures, handling any kinds of eye problems, whether medically or surgically. They also have knowledge on general medicine.

There are ophthalmologists who specialize in specific areas, such as treating corneal problems, cataracts, glaucoma, retinal disease, and the like. Furthermore, they are able to perform laser refractive surgery like PRK or LASIK.

This is different from the optometrist, who is a healthcare professional that specializes in the eye. They are able to examine patients’ eyes, prescribe contacts and glasses, assess and medically treat any eye-related issues. 

There are also other eye care professionals, all of which differ from the ophthalmologists, including:

  • Opticians would use prescriptions that ophthalmologists provide when fitting contacts or glasses
  • Ophthalmic medical assistants are healthcare professionals helping ophthalmologists, performing tests that will help treat patients
  • Ophthalmic technicians assist doctors with more complex tests and surgeries
  • Ophthalmic registered nurses work with ophthalmologists on technical tasks, like injecting medications or surgery assistance

What Do Ophthalmologists Do?

Regardless of the eye issues, ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat them. Here are the common procedures ophthalmologists perform:

  • Cataract removal, which includes extracapsular surgery and phacoemulsification
  • Corneal procedures like corneal loss linking, pterygium surgery, or transplants
  • Glaucoma procedures such as glaucoma implant surgery, minimally invasive glaucoma surgery, and trabeculectomy
  • Refractive surgeries like LASIK, RK, and AK
  • Surgery for any retinal issues like tears or detachments. This includes cryotherapy, laser photocoagulation, vitrectomy, scleral buckle, among others. 

These are also the series of tests they conduct on patients, depending on the symptoms experienced or if it is a routine eye exam. Comprehensive eye exams would take between 45-90 minutes long, which consists of tests, eye exams, and asking about the patient’s medical history.

eye visit

Here are some of the common eye tests conducted by ophthalmologists:

  • Visual field assessments
  • Eye pressure testing with tonometry
  • Eye movement tests, known as ocular motility
  • Assessing the retina, optic nerve, and front of one’s eyes
  • Finding prescriptions for contacts and glasses using a phoropter
  • Fundus photos
  • Topography
  • Optical coherence tomography
  • Fluorescein angiography

Besides the procedure they can perform, here are what ophthalmologists do: 

  • Perform eye exams
  • Perform eye surgery (as mentioned)
  • Prescribe and fit contacts and glasses
  • Diagnose and treat eye-related diseases or disorders

Ophthalmologists are the only healthcare practitioners that received adequate training to diagnose and treat all of the eye and vision-related conditions. Here are some of the common conditions these medical practitioners treat:

  • Cataracts, a condition when the eye’s lens would develop cloudy patches
  • Glaucoma, a condition where the optic nerve gets damaged, resulting in fluid buildup
  • Strabismus, also known as squint, which occurs when eyes aren’t aligned
  • Amblyopia, also known as the lazy eye, which is when eyesight in one eye was not developed properly
  • Retinal problems like retinal detachment, bleeding, and/or swelling
  • Intraocular inflammation, or inflammation occurring in the eyes
  • Corneal pathology, or diseases affecting one’s cornea

They may also treat the following:

  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Infectious eye diseases
  • Major or minor eye injuries
  • Rare eye diseases like hemolacria or bloody tears
  • Macular degeneration, a condition affecting the retina, which leads to loss of central vision

Education and Training Required

Ophthalmologists will need to attend medical school, then undergo 4-5 years of training. They should then obtain a medical license for the practice. This is an average of 12 years of education and training.

There are ophthalmologists who spend an additional 1-2 years of training in subspecialties, such as glaucoma or pediatric ophthalmology. Here are the specialties;

  • The cornea, focusing on cataract or refractive eye surgery, corneal transplantation, among other related procedures
  • The retina or uveitis, which specializes in the conditions affecting the retina or vitreous. This includes being able to perform laser and surgical treatments to treat these conditions, such as retinal detachment or diabetic retinopathy
  • Glaucoma, which is about medically and surgically treating conditions that affect optic nerves
  • Pediatric ophthalmology specializes in eye conditions affecting children
  • Oculoplastic specializes in techniques to repair bony fractures and remove tumors
  • Neuro-ophthalmology focuses on neurological conditions including visual manifestation
  • Ocular oncology involves diagnosing and treating tumors around or inside the eyes.

There are cases where ophthalmologists are board-certified, having passed an extensive test conducted by the American Board of Ophthalmology.

Seeing an Ophthalmologist

Family doctors would refer patients to ophthalmologists. Or, one can ask for recommendations from friends or family. People can also find local ophthalmologists from online directories, with the AAO having their own, which you can find here


One should visit an ophthalmologist if he experiences any of these symptoms:

  • Decreased vision
  • Eye pain
  • Seeing spots, ghostlike images, flashes of light, or floaters
  • Colored circles or halos around lights
  • Edges and lines appearing distorted and/or wavy
  • Redness in or around the eye
  • Dry eyes that burn and/or itch
  • Eye tearing and/or discharging
  • Bulging in the eye/s
  • Crossed eyes
  • Double vision

You should also see an ophthalmologist if you have a family history of eye diseases and/or if you have diabetes, as this increases the chances of developing diabetic retinopathy.

Wrapping It Up

An ophthalmologist cares for everything focused in and around the eye. If you happen to experience any pain or discomfort, it’s time to see your local ophthalmologist. Just be sure that you find one that is reputable and recommended by trusted sources.

Keep your eyes healthy and have a routine eye exam to be sure your eyes are in great condition, preventing serious diseases!