It’s easy to see why eye care is so important. Of the five senses, it’s arguably the one we use the most. Yet eye care can also be confusing, as there are several different types of eye physicians who are there to meet your needs.
There are three types of eye physicians—opticians, ophthalmologists and optometrists. What each respective eye care professional does is specific, yet related to the other two.
“Many of our patients come to see our opticians,” says Dr. Troy Raber of Halpern Eye Care. “These patients are seen for routine comprehensive eye examinations that result in a recommendation for some form of vision correction, including spectacles or contact lenses. In addition we perform an evaluation of the entire visual system looking at visual function and ocular health.”
“Doctors of optometry are the primary health care professionals for the eye,” says Dr. Joseph Senall of Simon Eye Associates. “We examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases, injuries and disorders of the eye and visual system. We also participate in the care of related systemic conditions affecting the eye, such as diabetes and hypertension. We prescribe medications, spectacle lenses and contact lenses, as well as provide counseling, coordination and comanagement of our patients’ eye surgical needs with our affiliated eye surgeons.”
“An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor with similar training to your family doctor who then goes on to specialize in disease and surgery of the eyes,” says Dr. Gary Markowitz of Delaware Eye Care. “The most common of these surgeries are Lasik and cataract surgery. We also perform eye surgical procedures, we do routine exams for contact lenses, eye disease and glasses.”
Dr. Andrew Barrett of Delaware Ophthalmology stresses that eye care is critically important to people of all ages.
“Studies have shown that children with uncorrected vision problems tend to have more difficulties in school,” he says. “Preventive and routine eye examinations can save unknowing patients from devastating diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. Laser vision correction can be transformative for people who are dependent on glasses and contact lenses. Cataract surgery may help seniors maintain their independent state.”
Dr. Richard Sherry agrees, saying it’s important for young children to receive eye exams, even if there are no signs of a problem.
“Children need to have their eyes examined by a skilled professional several times in the first decade of life,” Sherry says. “If parents notice excessive squinting, crossed eyes, or obvious difficulty with vision, don’t wait. The sooner problems are detected, the easier they are to treat. Young adults should be examined at least once per decade, even if all seems well.”
Certainly, helping children see better helps them do better academically and socially. But for adults, Senall explains that routine eye care is very important to a person’s overall quality of life.
“Eighty percent of what we learn is visual, so with good eye care and fully corrected vision, patients are able to perform at their highest level at work, school and in their other hobbies and activities,” he says. “Many eye diseases like glaucoma and even systemic diseases related to the eye such as diabetes and hypertension can be detected early during a comprehensive eye exam. With early detection, care and treatment for these diseases may help reverse or slow down their progression.”
“We hear on a daily basis, patients expressing concern as to what would happen if they were to ever lose their eyesight,” Raber says. “Our primary focus is making sure this does not happen on our watch. Unfortunately many potentially sight threatening conditions have no early warning signs or symptoms. We can’t express enough the need for routine eye care and evaluation even if patients are experiencing no visual problems.”
The experts, of course, have tips for their patients with regard to eye care.
“If you’re interested in receiving quality care, friends that had dealings with eye physicians are a good referral source, as well as your family doctor,” Markowitz says. “Stability and reputation are important. If a doctor has a good reputation and has been practicing in an area for an extended time, generally there is good reason.”
“Sometimes, people treat their eyes like they treat their cars,” Barrett says. “They wait until they are having a problem before they come in for service. The best advice I could give a patient is to schedule a routine eye examination at least once every two years.”
“Remember to ask us about new technology that will allow you to see better at work, home and in your hobbies and activities,” Senall says. “Even if you don’t have vision problems, we still recommend that you see an eye physician for a comprehensive eye exam to ensure that your sight and health are protected.”
In terms of the eye care profession, there are several things to learn.
“Many people don’t realize that ophthalmologists can diagnose many systemic diseases just by examining the eyes,” Barrett says. “Diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, tuberculosis, lupus, thyroid disease, and even HIV may be diagnosed from eye examinations.”
Some patients may not know that in addition to prescribing glasses and contact lenses, “optometrists also diagnose, treat and manage many common eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration,” says Senall. “We also routinely treat acute treatment problems of the eye, including conjunctivitis, pink eye, trauma to the eye, and we remove foreign bodies from the eye.
Additionally, optometrists counsel patients on common systemic disease related to the eye and help coordinate care with their primary care physicians. Some patients do not see a primary care physician routinely, so if they happen to come in here to see better, “we also look at and help them with their overall health picture,” says Senall.
Says Raber, “Glasses and contact lenses are only a portion what we are able to provide. From emergency visits due to red eyes, abrasions and trauma to ongoing chronic care for patients with diabetes or glaucoma, our optometrists are trained and educated to provide treatment for array of conditions.”
Many patients don’t realize that in most cases, medical insurance can be billed for services related to many of these conditions, even if their vision plans cover only one eye exam a year.
Every profession has its rewards. Eye care is no exception. “The most dramatic thing about the profession is that we can alter peoples’ lives in a positive way,” Markowitz says.
“My profession is exceedingly rewarding, as I can diagnose and treat eye diseases and provide patients with state-of-the-art cures for potentially devastating eye problems,” says Barrett. “Providing sight-saving treatments to patients in need is very gratifying.”
“The opportunity to interact and help peoples’ lives in so many ways makes being an optometrist very rewarding and enjoyable,” says Senall, “whether that be prescribing a pair of glasses to a child that allows them to do better in school, fitting contact lenses to a young athlete to improve their performance, giving relief to a patient by removing a piece of rust from their eye, saving someone’s vision by detecting a serious eye disease, or even detecting signs in the eye of serious vascular disease that they were unaware of,
possibly saving their life.
“The eyes and the vision they provide is a sense that is valued by patients of all ages,” says Raber. “By being the primary eye care provider for all patients—from infants to seniors—not a day goes by that we do not encounter someone whose life we enhanced with the gift of good vision and sight.”
As with any medical field, advances in eye care are made on a regular basis. And it is important for patients to ask questions. In fact, a good eye doctor is happy to answer any and all questions posed to them by their patients.
“There have been tremendous improvements in the quality and precision of laser vision correction surgery,” says Markowitz. “Cataract surgery, which was used to restore blurry vision, can now also reduce or eliminate the need for glasses as well as improving the quality of sight.”
“Ophthalmology is one of the most rapidly evolving fields of medicine,” says Barrett. “New advances in cataract and laser vision correction surgery can offer patients independence from glasses. New treatments for macular degeneration may save and even restore vision that, only a few years ago, would have been lost forever. New glaucoma treatments can save patients from severe vision loss with minimal inconvenience.”
According to Senall, “There are always new and better medications for treating eye disease and exciting new developments that will simplify medicine delivery to the eye via contact lens delivery.
“Multi-focal contact lenses continue to improve for patients over 40 who don’t want to wear reading glasses, says Senall. “Progressive lenses for glasses have been revolutionized by a change to free form design, allowing patients to see much better without peripheral distortion through computer design and custom laser surfacing of these lenses.”
Patients should consult their eye care professionals armed with this knowledge. The more they know, the better—and professionals respect patients who’ve done their research.
Raber echoes Senall’s comments. “The ease of use and minimal care of daily disposable contact lenses have become the first choice for many of our patients,” he says. “There are now options available for nearly all patients, including those with astigmatism and bifocal wearers. For spectacle wearers requiring a bifocal lens, the technology associated with the multi-focal progressive addition lenses has made great strides in producing lenses with a wide range of clear comfortable vision at all distances.”