What Is an Ophthalmologist?

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What Is an Ophthalmologist and What Vision Care Do They Provide?

Have you been wondering what the difference is between an ophthalmologist, optometrist and an optician? Are you curious about which one you need to see for your eye care needs? Read on to find out now.

What Is the Difference Between Ophthalmologists, Optometrists and Opticians?

There are three primary types of eye care providers. If you have been experiencing any sort of eye problems, then you are likely looking into making an appointment with one of them: an ophthalmologist, an optometrist or an optician. Each of these professionals possesses different levels of expertise and years of training and thus fulfil different eye care needs. Discover the differences between them and which eye care professional is the right fit for you.


First off, let’s answer the question ‘what is ophthalmology?’ Ophthalmologists South Africa defines ophthalmology as a branch of medicine that is concerned with the anatomy and physiology of the eye, as well as treating any diseases pertaining to the eye.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that went on to specialise in diagnosing and treating eye disorders. They are also responsible for making diagnoses of systemic disease that present themselves as specific signs and symptoms observed in the eyes. Ophthalmologists have usually completed between 12 and 13 years of schooling and training.

Ophthalmologists are the only eye care professionals that are medically, as well as surgically, trained to treat disorders of the eyes. They frequently perform surgeries on their patients’ eyes, with the ultimate goal of achieving improved eyesight and thus quality of life.

However, it’s not all about surgery. Ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat eye diseases through non-surgical means, such as by prescribing relevant medication(s). An ophthalmologist can also perform eye exams, as well as write eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions. Additionally, plenty of ophthalmologists do their part when it comes to scientific research regarding causes and cures for various diseases and disorders pertaining to the eye.

In short, an ophthalmologist is considered a medical and surgical specialist that can provide the highest level of eye care. Due to their advanced training, ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat a much wider range of eye conditions than their optometrist and optician colleagues.

You should see an ophthalmologist if you are struggling with eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, amongst others.

If you need to see an ophthalmologist in the Garden Route or beyond, contact us today.


The first considerable difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist is that optometrists are not certified medical doctors. They serve as the primary healthcare professionals when it comes to routine eye care such as eyesight testing and correction, as well as diagnosing, treating and managing any changes in the quality of vision.

Those who hold a license to practice optometry mainly prescribe and dispense corrective eye gear (i.e. contact lenses and glasses), perform vision tests and eye exams, identify abnormalities of the eye and prescribe medications for some eye diseases.

Sometimes, optometrists will pick up that a patient is suffering from a more serious eye condition, such as cataracts, and will then refer the patient to an ophthalmologist. If a patient has undergone eye surgery, an optometrist may offer aftercare.


The optician differs from both the optometrist and ophthalmologist in that they are not allowed to diagnose or treat an eye diseases.

An optician is a technician that was educated to design, verify and properly fit both the frames and lenses of glasses, contact lenses, as well as other eye correcting devices. Opticians do not test eyesight or write prescriptions for treating vision issues themselves. Instead, they receive prescriptions from optometrists and ophthalmologists and create the patient’s corrective eye gear from the information supplied.

Some of an optician’s other duties include:

  • Taking facial measurements to properly fit a pair of glasses’ frame
  • Help make the decision of which frame and/or type of lenses will work the best
  • Advise clients on vision accessories
  • Check and order eye products such as contact lenses
  • General office duties when working as part of a larger optometry office team

You can briefly learn more about other eye care professionals like ophthalmic medical assistants and ophthalmic photographers here.

When to Visit an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist or Optician

How do you know if it’s time to visit an eye care professional? And how do you know if an eye care professional is right for you?

The answer is simpler than you may think:

  • You should go see an ophthalmologist if you are suffering from a serious eye condition that requires surgical or medical treatment
  • For your routine vision care needs like annual eye exams or the refilling of a contact lens, spectacle or medication prescription, visit an optometrist
  • Go and see an optician, usually found at your local eye care centre or optometrist’s office, when you need your contact lens or spectacle prescription filled or changed

It’s important to deal with any eye issues or vision changes that rear their head as soon as possible and make an appointment with the appropriate eye care professional. Vision problems can affect your quality of life as you struggle to do your work, complete everyday tasks, enjoy hobbies or even recognise other people.

It’s also important that you visit an ophthalmologist by the age of 40 for a full eye exam and then as often as your personal needs require. As mentioned before, underlying health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can have an effect on your eyesight. If eye disease runs in your family, you may be more prone to developing that disease as well.

World-Class Vision Care in the Garden Route and Beyond

 If you have been searching the internet for ‘ophthalmologist Garden Route’, ‘ophthalmologists Knysnaophthalmologist Eastern Cape’ or ‘ophthalmologist Johannesburg’, our team of eye care professionals can help you with any in-eye issues you may be experiencing.

Dr Dylan Joseph is one of the highly skilled ophthalmologists in Knysna. He and his three esteemed colleagues, Dr Darren Stoler (based in Johannesburg, Gauteng), Dr Emil Goosen and Dr Mark Jacoby (both based in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape), have years of experience and strive to provide all patients with world-class eye care.

If you are concerned about your eyesight or start displaying any of the following risk factor or signs in an eye (or both), be sure to make an appointment with one of our ophthalmologists today:

  • Bulging eye(s)
  • Vision blocked by a veil/dark curtain
  • (Temporarily) decreased vision
  • Excessive tearing
  • Eyelid abnormalities
  • Distorted vision
  • Seeing double
  • Familial eye disorders
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • High blood pressure
  • Sustaining an injury to the eye
  • Seeing halos (i.e. coloured circles surrounding lights)
  • Peripheral (side) vision loss
  • Experiencing flashes of light and/or new floaters
  • In-eye pain
  • Misaligned eyes
  • Unusually red eye(s)
  • Grave’s disease or suffering from other thyroid disease-related eye issues

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