Daniel Hardiman-McCartney FCOptom
Clinical Adviser, College of Optometrists
Do you know what an optometrist does? Do you know your optometrist does more than test your vision? There’s so much more to what this eye specialist can do for you, from examining the health of your eye to detecting general health issues.
You may have heard of the term, ‘optician’, which is the umbrella term for both dispensing opticians who measure, fit and dispense your glasses, and ‘optometrists’, who complete your sight test and issue your prescription. Both can be found in the same high street practice, which is why the practice may be described as an optician’s.
An optometrist can do much more than prescribe glasses. They examine the eyes to detect vision problems, injury, eye disease and even some general health problems. They can provide advice on maintaining good eye health and can give you information and help answer questions on all things eye and vision related.
Optometrists study at university for at least three years and must participate in a period of clinical training in practice and assessment, before qualifying. Once qualified and registered to practice, they may specialise in areas such as contact lenses, children’s eye care or in eye conditions such as glaucoma, where damage to the nerve inside the eye causes gradual sight loss.
Top 5 ways in which your optometrist can help you:
Help you to see clearly
Optometrists test people’s sight and can prescribe and advise on suitable glasses, contact lenses and other visual aids.
Detect signs of eye disease
They examine patients in order to identify any eye conditions or diseases, and can sometimes manage or treat them, or refer you to other eye health specialists. Some optometrists can prescribe medicines for specific eye conditions.
Assess how well your visual system (eyes, brain and eye muscles) is working
This may include tests to assess how well your eyes work together, how well they can distinguish different colours and measure your peripheral vision.
Detect signs of general health problems
They may identify signs detected inside your eye that can indicate general health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
They can provide information and education
Optometrists have a wealth of knowledge on all things eye and vision related. An optometrist is able to give the advice and information people need to make informed decisions about their sight, eye health and visual wellbeing.
Going to an optometrist saves NHS resources
Did you know that increasing numbers of optometrists offer a menu of services for all things eye related? These can be clinics specifically for people suffering from dry eye, to appointments for those affected by a red and painful eye.
In Scotland, Wales and some parts of England, optometrists can provide health service-funded care, commonly called ‘minor eye condition services’. These services are to help people affected by problems such as styes or conjunctivitis.
Not only is it often closer and more convenient to visit an optometrist, but community optometrists providing these services free up the time of GPs and ophthalmologists (specialist eye doctors) saving health service resources.
Where will you find an optometrist?
Optometrists work in community practices, hospital clinics and may visit your home or day centre. Some optometrists work behind the scenes in research, training and public health policy. A growing number of optometrists work in hospitals and specialist clinics, from eye casualty to clinics for people affected by glaucoma or other eye conditions.