What’s the difference between an optician, optometrist and ophthalmologist?

I remember once while I was still in school and someone asked me what I was studying. I said that I was studying to be an optometrist and without batting an eye they looked at me and said “Oh, what’s it like to work with teeth?” So close but so far.

There is a lot of confusion out there about what we in the industry refer to as ‘The Three O’s’, perhaps better known as opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. Even for people who are reasonably familiar with the optical industry people often ask me what the difference is. It absolutely can be confusing but let’s think of it in a way most of us are very famliar with.

"Opticians are sort of like technicians."

Opticians are sort of like technicians. They receive an optical prescription and fill it. They are your lens and frame experts. In Alberta they take a two year course to learn how to fit lenses properly and take all the necessary and extremely important measurements. They learn all about how to adjust frames to fit your face properly as well as what frames will work best on which face shapes. They know all about things like progressives versus bifocals, refractive index, anti glare coatings and a whole bunch of other technical things that are vital to you getting the right lens. They are an integral part of  your vision care team.

In case you weren't sure, this is what an optometrist might look like.

In case you weren't sure, this is what an optometrist might look like.

"You should see an optometrist regularly to pick up any problems that are happening silently, with no symptoms."

Optometrists are like your family doctor. You have  any sort of problem with your eyes and we are the people you need to come and see. It might be a problem seeing, a red gooey eye or maybe you got something in your eye that won’t come out. You come see an optometrist and we’ll fix you up. Of course just like getting a yearly physical you don’t have to have something wrong to see an optometrist. In fact you should see one regularly to pick up any problems that are happening silently, with no symptoms.
Optometrists in Canada take a minimum of a three year undergraduate degree followed by a four year course at the only English speaking Optometry school in Canada at the University of Waterloo or the only Canadian French speaking school at the University of Montreal. They are then required to write national board exams before being licensed to work in Canada.

"Seeing an ophthalmologist requires a referral..."

Ophthalmologists are eye surgeons performing complex eye surgeries. They are medical doctors who have gone on to do even more schooling to specialize in the eye. Much like other specialists like brain surgeons, heart surgeons, kidney specialists etc you require a referral to see them. It is the job of an optometrist or your family doctor to refer you if there is an eye problem beyond what we are able to treat. For example, if you had a cataract that required surgery, an optometrist would refer you to see an ophthalmologist that specialized in cataract surgeries.

If you have any questions about this or anything else feel free to contact us on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.

Contact lens exams - why do they matter?

Contact lenses and the need for contact lens exams are confusing and also misunderstood.

I know what you're thinking. What is he talking about? Contacts aren't confusing! You stick them in your eye and they make you see.  What could be more simple?

Let's dive into this.

Contact lenses can be great if they're used properly. If they aren't fit properly or cared for in the right way they can be dangerous and cause permanent loss of vision.

Contact lenses can be great if they're used properly. If they aren't fit properly or cared for in the right way they can be dangerous and cause permanent loss of vision.

Contact lenses are a medical device

First and foremost contacts are a medical device. They're classified this way because they can cause serious harm if they aren't fit or worn properly. Contact lenses are actually not allowed to be sold without a contact lens prescription nor can they be sold by just anyone. Since they are a restricted medical device only ophthalmologists, optometrists and contact lens fitting opticians are allowed to legally sell contact lenses. That means all contact lenses in costume shops and from some online vendors are not legally sold.

But can't I just order my contacts online without a contact lens prescription or fitting?

Currently you can, it's true. This is something that is under investigation and review by numerous agencies both governmental and medical. Since there can be serious harm buying contacts without an up to date contact lens prescription it is not recommend. Optometrists, ophthalmologists and contact lens fitting opticians are all held to a higher standard and cannot sell or provide contact lenses without ensuring they are safe!

Contacts need to be fit properly to be safe

Contact lenses can be too tight, too loose, too big or too small. Any of these can increase your risk of an infection. A lens that is too loose is obvious to you as the person wearing contacts because it will be uncomfortable and the vision will change every time you blink. Other problems, like being too tight, is something only your eye care professional can tell since it will feel very comfortable... until you get an infection.

Contacts need to be fit properly to be able to see

This is especially true of astigmatism correcting (or toric) and multifocal contacts. These lenses interact with the shape of your eyes and your eyelids and if they aren't sitting in the right spot your vision will be blurred. This is easily corrected by visiting your doctor of optometry for a proper fitting.

Contacts need to be tried first to make sure they're comfortable

When you have a contact lens fitting you are given trial lenses. In part this is to allow the doctor to make sure your contacts fit you properly and that you're seeing clearly, but it's also to let you feel that lens on your eye. Each contact lens is made with different materials and coatings that are supposed to make them more comfortable. Different people react differently to these materials and what is comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another. Trialing lenses (at no charge) gives you the chance to make sure that the lens feels comfortable in your eye. A lens that fits great and your vision is perfect isn't any good if you can't wear it because it feels like sandpaper in your eye!

So what is a contact lens prescription?

A proper contact lens prescription is different from a glasses prescription. It will specify the exact lens that the doctor has trialed with you, the base curve and diameter of the lens and the power (sometimes called the prescription) needed in the contacts. The power in your contacts is often different from your glasses either because of differences in what is available in contacts (low powers of astigmatism are not available, for example) or because your prescription is altered when we move from glasses, which sit on your nose, to contacts, which sit directly on your eye. After a proper fitting and trial your doctor of optometry can provide you with a finalized copy of your contact lens prescription. Before that process is completed you actually only have trial contact lens information but not a finalized prescription.

You need to be trained on how to wear your contacts

If you're new to contacts, a contact lens exam will also involve getting you set up with a training. We show you how to put the contact lens in and take it out and make sure you can do it confidently. You might think it's easy to get a contact lens in  and out but without the proper training it can be really hard! We also make sure you know how to take care of your contacts, how to clean them and how often to replace them. This is all vital to making sure your eyes stay healthy.

Choosing the right lens can save you a lot of hassle and money too!

There are a lot of different contact lenses out there. There are monthly contacts, biweekly contacts and daily contacts. Some contacts you can sleep in and some you can't. Some let in more oxygen and some are more moist. Some lenses that sound like a bargain because they're cheap may be really old technology that could cause damage to your eyes. How do you know which one to choose? Talking with your optometrist is the best place to start. We're familiar with all the different contact lenses available and can find one that works for you based on how you want to wear them and what your budget is.

What solution to use?

One thing that isn't talked about enough is solution. Many contact lens wearers think that any old solution will work fine and that they can switch from one to solution to another without issue (just buying whatever is on sale). Your optometrist will discuss which contact lens solution is the best for the type of lenses you wear. Switching back and forth from one solution mixes up all sorts of chemicals and can make your contacts uncomfortable and really hard to wear. Using the right solution makes a big difference when it comes to comfort and cleanliness!

To sum up, it's important to have a contact lens exam to ensure good comfort and vision, proper fit to reduce the risk of infection and get advice on which lenses to use, how to use them, how to take care of them and which solution to use.

If you have any questions about this or anything else feel free to contact us on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.

So if I come in for an eye exam, what are you going to do to me?

If you’ve been reading my blog you know there are a lot of reasons to come in for an eye exam even if you feel that your vision is perfect and that you don’t need glasses. You already understand that there’s the health and muscle function side of an eye exam that is just as important as how well you see. For many people who have never had an eye exam though they wonder what is involved. Anything new can be uncomfortable and if you feel like everything is fine people hesitate to come in. So let’s go over what an eye exam is all about.

When you first come for a visit we’re going to have you fill in a nice form with a lot of your personal medical information. We need this to rule in  or out certain eye problems and to know a bit more about your health. All of this information is kept strictly private and cannot be released to anyone or any group without your consent (this is true of ALL medical and personal information we obtain).

Once you’re all checked in there are some preliminary tests done by our optician. At Eye Spy Optometry we first get an estimate of how well your eyes are focusing using a machine called an auto-refractor. These results are what I use as a starting point to narrow down an exact prescription. Next, we take pictures of the back of your eye as well as scans of both your optic nerves and your maculae. The optic nerve is what sends the information back to your brain and is affected in many disorders including glaucoma. The macula is the part of your eye used for fine central detail. There are many things that could go wrong here too but one of the most common is macular degeneration. These scans give us the ability to detect changes that may be related to an eye condition much earlier than just looking inside of the eye.

Next you get to see me. I’ll review your medication and health information with you and then we jump right in. I check to see how you’re seeing with glasses if you have them, without if you don’t. I also check to see how well the eyes are working together and check pupils for signs of any neurological concerns. What comes next is the stereotypical part of the exam. I put a machine called a phoropter in front of your face and show you a variety of lenses, asking you which makes the image at the end of the room better. This is the part of the exam that causes people the most stress. Don’t worry though! My job is to help you through it and make sure we don’t come out with the wrong prescription. You can’t fail the test, I promise, because it isn’t a pass/fail sort of test! I will also have a look at the health of your eyes, inside and out, and finally I’ll check the pressure in your eyes, but not with that puff of air test!

This is a traditional phoropter (used in the 'Which is better, one or two?' test). At Eye Spy Optometry we have a more modern, digital phoropter.

This is a traditional phoropter (used in the 'Which is better, one or two?' test). At Eye Spy Optometry we have a more modern, digital phoropter.

The final step to your eye exam is to review everything. I’ll show you the photos and scans and explain what they mean, discuss any health concerns and review your prescription, if there is one. I’ll make any recommendations about how to help keep your eyes healthy or improve your vision that make sense based off of your results. Most importantly though, I’ll answer your questions. I do my very best to make sure everything we review together is clear but sometimes jargon slips in. Always feel comfortable asking questions and I’ll do my best to make sure it all makes sense.

If you do happen to need glasses there is ONE more thing that happens. You get to pick out frames! That’s the fun part of the exam. There are so many different colours, shapes and styles to pick from and wide range of prices to suit every budget that finding something that works for you is fun and stress free.

So book an appointment today! You know you should get everything checked out even if your vision is great. Now that you know what we do when you come to see us there’s no excuse not to give us a call at (403) 474-6744 or book online here.

As always, any questions feel free to contact us on Twitter, Facebook, Google + or via our website.