What Is an Ophthalmologist?

There’s no doubt that sight is one of the most important sensory faculties we have. Visually experiencing our surroundings enables us to both function properly and engage with the world in a meaningful way. 

This means that taking care of your eyes is essential to maintaining good vision and preventing illnesses that could lead to serious complications like blindness. Ophthalmology is the medical speciality that addresses these issues. In this article, you'll learn about the main responsibilities of an ophthalmologist and how to find one near you.

Definition of Ophthalmologist

An ophthalmologist (also known as an eye doctor) is a physician with advanced medical and surgical training that specializes in eye and vision care. This healthcare professional is trained to diagnose and treat all types of eye diseases, perform eye surgery, and prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses. As they have studied medicine, ophthalmologists can recognize other health problems that aren’t directly related to vision and refer patients to the appropriate specialist. 

What Diseases Does Ophthalmology Treat?

Some eye disorders are minor and temporary, but there are others that can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. 

Some of the most common eye diseases are:

  • Cataracts: A cloudy area of the lens of the eye that affects vision.

  • Conjunctivitis: A condition caused by multiple factors that causes swelling, itching, burning, tearing, and redness of the conjunctiva (thin, translucent membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids).

  • Retinal diseases: These encompass a group of diseases that affect the retina of the eye. Examples include retinoblastoma, macular degeneration and floaters.

  • Refractive errors: These are vision problems that develop when the shape of the eye doesn’t allow for proper focusing. The three most common types of refractive errors are nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.

  • Diabetes-related eye problems: High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can damage the eye’s blood vessels and lenses. This can lead to serious eye problems, such as vision damage and sometimes blindness.

  • Optic nerve disorders: This is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve. Some common disorders are glaucoma, optic neuritis, and optic nerve atrophy.

When to See an Ophthalmologist

Visits to the ophthalmologist help prevent potential eye diseases and treat existing problems, which is why it’s important to get regular eye checkups. The recommended frequency varies depending on your age and family history. Let's take a look at what’s recommended based on age alone.

  • Before age 5: Children can have major visual impairments without even knowing it. That’s why it’s critical to get an initial eye checkup between the ages of 3 and 5.

  • From puberty to 39: Young people between the ages of 20 and 29 should receive at least one complete eye exam. Between the ages of 30 and 39, it’s recommended that they get at least two eye exams. 

  • Between 40 and 65: Ideally, adults should have a complete eye examination every two to four years.

  • Over 65: Complete eye exams should be performed every one to two years to detect cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and other eye disorders.

Risk factors

Some people are predisposed to developing eye disorders due to their family history. If you fall into any of the following categories, you should consult an ophthalmologist more frequently:

When to See an Ophthalmologist in Emergency Cases

If you experience any of the following symptoms, see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible:

  • Decreased vision, even if temporary

  • A curtain or veil that blocks vision

  • Halos (seeing colored rings around light sources)

  • 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

  • Flashes of light

  • Seeing spots

  • Lines and edges that appear distorted or wavy

  • Dry, itchy, burning eyes

What Ophthalmology Specialties Are There?

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Within the field of ophthalmology there are several specialties that treat more complex problems or specific patient groups. These are the primary ophthalmologic specialties:


The cornea is the outer layer of the eye. It’s transparent, curvilinear, and is located in front of the iris. Its functions are to protect the eye from harmful materials (such as dust and germs) and to help the eye focus. A corneal specialist knows how to diagnose and treat corneal diseases and trauma to the eye. In addition, many perform refractive surgery and corneal transplants. 


The retina is a tissue that lines the back of the eye. This tissue detects light and sends signals to the brain so you can see. An ophthalmologist specializing in the retina diagnoses and treats all types of retinal diseases. In addition, he or she can surgically repair retinal tears and detachments.


Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases related to damage to the optic nerve. The function of this nerve is to send the images you see with your eyes to the brain. In general, damage to the optic nerve occurs when excess fluid builds up in the front of the eye, increasing pressure. As a result, it can cause blindness. Ophthalmologists specializing in glaucoma carry out treatments to control eye pressure.


Pediatric ophthalmologists diagnose and treat eye problems in children and infants. 


Oculoplastic surgery specialists treat damage or problems in the eyelids, bones, and other ocular structures to improve facial appearance and structural function.


Ophthalmologists specializing in neurology (neuro-ophthalmologists) treat vision problems that are caused by faults in the interaction of the eyes with the brain, nerves and/or muscles.

Benefits of Ophthalmology

Getting your eyes checked is important for two primary reasons:

  • It allows the diagnosis of eye diseases that do not have outward or easily perceived symptoms or signs. Many eye pathologies can only be detected with an eye exam. Thanks to this, the corresponding treatment can be applied, avoiding serious or irreversible consequences such as blindness.

  • It enables optimal vision performance for each person. Many people use prescription glasses for a specific task, such as reading, driving, or using a computer. Improving one's vision not only makes them feel more at ease (since they can see their surroundings better), but it also helps them function better in their daily lives. As an example:

    • Children that use glasses when needed pay better attention in class and can understand what the teacher is writing or presenting. In other words, their school performance will improve. 

    • Better vision is also vital for adults in their employment and daily activities. Many people struggle to see their computer or smartphone screen clearly. Overall well-being and productivity improve when blurry vision is no longer a struggle.

What’s the Difference between an Ophthalmologist, an Optometrist, and an Optician?

Although they may seem interchangeable, each of these professionals handle different aspects of eye care.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye health. They perform comprehensive eye exams, prescribe corrective lenses, and diagnose and treat eye diseases. In addition, they may prescribe drug treatments and perform surgical interventions to keep eyes healthy and functional.

Optometrists are primary healthcare professionals responsible for treating non-pathological eye disorders to keep the visual system functioning at its best. They are trained to do many of the tasks that ophthalmologists do: perform eye exams, prescribe eyeglasses, and handle some simple eye pathologies. Should they detect a complex eye disease, they will refer a patient to an ophthalmologist.

Finally, an optician is a professional who provides prescriptions for corrective lenses. Their job is to prepare, assemble, and fit eyeglasses. In addition, many offer contact lenses.

How Do I Find an Ophthalmologist Near Me?

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You can find an ophthalmologist near you through the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) website. There you can search by city and specialty to find details and contact information for a large number of eye care professionals.

How do I find free or low-cost ophthalmologists?

There are programs that offer free or low-cost eye exams and eyeglasses throughout the United States. To qualify, you will need to fill out an application and, in some cases, meet specific requirements, such as being at increased risk for certain eye diseases or having a low income.

  • VSP Eyes of Hope: Provides free eye care and eyeglasses to children and adults. This program is for people with limited income who don’t have health insurance. To apply for the program, you’ll need the help of a school nurse or community partner organization.

Read more about VSP Eyes of Hope.

  • Mission Cataract USA: Provides free cataract surgery to people of all ages who cannot afford it. Please note that this program is available only in some U.S. states.  

Find an ophthalmologist who is part of the Mission Cataract USA program

  • AGS Cares: A program run by the American Glaucoma Society (AGS) that helps people with low income or no health insurance get glaucoma surgery.

See if you qualify for AGS Cares assistance

  • InfantSEE: Provides free eye screenings for infants 6 to 12 months of age. 

Find an eye doctor near you from the InfantSEE program.

  • All Children See: A program that connects you with eye doctors who can do a complete eye exam for your children. This help is available for children who have had an eye problem detected by an exam or who have vision problems. 

Consult if your child qualifies for the All Children See program.

  • EyeCare America: Provides free comprehensive eye exams and up to one year of eye care for seniors age 65 and older and those at high risk for glaucoma.

Consult if you are eligible for help from EyeCare America.

Keep in mind: A complete list of more institutions offering financial assistance for eye care can be found at Prevent Blindness. More resources, discounts for eye medication, and eyeglass prescriptions can be found here.

Ophthalmologists for Undocumented Immigrants

Undocumented immigrants may find it more difficult to get an appointment with an ophthalmologist. However, there are a few places where they can go to access this health service. These are listed below:

  • Community health centers. Some community health centers offer free or low-cost eye care services. You can find a community health center near you here.

  • Local universities or colleges. Many of these places have optometry or ophthalmology programs that offer eye care to the general public, regardless of immigration status. You can ask about these services at the university or college nearest you. On this website you’ll find a large number of colleges and universities that have a School of Optometry. 

  • State Medical Coverage. Some U.S. states have begun to provide health coverage for certain immigrant groups. In some cases, this includes undocumented individuals. You can download the list of states that offer this service and what requirements must be met here
  • PODERsalud membership. This service is an affordable alternative to traditional health insurance. It allows people without documents to access quality medical consultations. For just $16.95 a month, you and your immediate family can access thousands of ophthalmologists nationwide and receive great savings on eyeglasses, contact lenses, laser surgery, and eye exams.

How Much Does an Ophthalmology Consultation Cost?

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An ophthalmology consultation is a complete eye exam to check your eye health. The price of this service can vary considerably depending on whether you have health insurance or not.

Examination with health insurance: The cost varies depending on your health insurance. Most do not cover 100% of routine eye exams or offer separate vision plans. With eye insurance, the average co-payment for an eye exam is about $10 to $40.

Uninsured exam: The cost of an eye exam can range from $50 to $250. However, there are several chain stores that provide comprehensive exams at a much more affordable price. For example, at Target and Walmart Vision Center it costs between $70 and $75. 

Where to Study Ophthalmology in the United States

Studying ophthalmology is a long but rewarding journey. To become a professional in this field, you must first complete four years of undergraduate study at a college or university, then study another four years at a medical school to become a physician, and finally, you must complete an ophthalmology residency that lasts between four and five years.

Take Care of Your Eye Health!

Your eyes and vision are extremely important since they allow you to function properly on a daily basis. Keeping them healthy is critical!

We hope that this guide has provided you with enough information to locate an ophthalmologist near you and schedule the necessary check-ups. Taking care of your eye health is just one of many aspects that influence your general well-being and performance. 

Always put your health first, and keep in mind that SABEResPODER!
If you have any questions about this or any other topic, do not hesitate to contact us, we would love to help you.