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Optometry (Greek: optos meaning seen or visible and metria meaning measurement) is a health care profession concerned with eyes and related structures, vision, visual system and vision information processing in humans.

Like most health professions, optometry education, certification and practice is regulated in most countries. Optometrists and related organizations interact with government, other health care professions and the community to deliver eyecare and visioncare. Optometry is a type of eyecare profession and optometrists often interact with other eye care professionals, such as ophthalmologists (medical doctors) and opticians.

An optical refractor (also called a phoropter) in use.

Scope of practice

Doctors of optometry (ODs), are primary health care professionals for the eye, serving patients in nearly 6,500 communities in the United States alone. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye. Optometrists prescribe medications, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses, and contact lenses. Optometrists can detect and diagnose eye diseases and disorders including glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. In all 50 of the United States, optometrists are licensed to prescribe medications to treat ocular diseases. Optometrists in Oklahoma may perform certain minor laser procedures.

Eye & vision examination

As with most health care, examination often includes history taking and observations during tests.

  • Examination of ocular health may include:
    • inspection of the external and internal ocular structures with various specialty equipment
    • observation of various eye movements and alignment
    • observation of pupillary reaction to light
  • Examination of visual skills:
    • applying a battery of structured visual tasks for patient to complete

Examples of equipment

There are many types of equipment used during an eye examination. For example, various vision charts and machines are used to measure vision and visual fields. Trial (spectacle & contact) lenses or a phoropter and retinoscope may be used during refraction. Prism bars, small objects and occluders may be used to assess eye movements and eye alignment. Penlight/transilluminator can be used when assessing pupil light response. Specialty magnifiers such as ophthalmoscope, and slit-lamp bio-microsope help with detailed inspection of external and internal ocular structures. Diagnostic eye drops may also be used to assess the eyes. Various test booklets/sheets/instructions and pencils may be used for visual information processing examination.

Another less common example of equipment used in optometry is Fresnel goggles which disables the patient from focusing, and thus is a tool to evaluate patients with Balance disorders [1]

Recently many optometrists have began using equipment specifically designed to help treat certain diseases. For example, in states where O.D.'s are licensed to treat glaucoma you may find equipment that helps the O.D. to document a sick retina such as a Optical coherence tomography, GDX [2], or HRT II. Many offices have various visual field analyzers including a Humphrey Visual Field Analyzer.


Diagnoses made by optometry depends on integrating eye examination information.

Some ocular pathology can be associated with systemic, neural or other disease complications. Some ocular pathology and visual dysfunctions or disorders may require further specialty testing. Hence, referral may be required to refine diagnoses and/or to implement appropriate treatment.


Optometry management can include:

  • advice and follow-up care regarding use of optical aids (especially contact lenses)
  • referral to other health professionals, often including medical doctors, and other eyecare professionals such as ophthalmologists and optometrists practicing sub-specialties
  • interacting with opticians and the optical industry which manufacture the optical aids according to the prescription


Optometric history is tied to the development of

The term optometrists was coined by Landolt in 1886, referring to the "fitting of glasses". Prior to this, there was a distinction between "dispensing" and "refracting" opticians in the 19th century. The latter were later called optometrists. [3]

Apparently the first schools of optometry were established in 1850-1900 (presumably in USA) and contact lenses were first used in 1940's [4]

Education and licensing

Most countries have regulations concerning optometry education and practice. Often, optometrists are required to participate in ongoing continuing education courses to stay current on the latest standards of care.

Optometry is officially recognized:

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, optometrists have to complete a 3 or 4 year undergraduate honours degree followed by a minimum of a one-year "pre-registration period" where they complete supervised practice under the supervision of an experienced qualified practitioner. During this year the pre-registration candidate is given a number of quarterly assessments and on successfully passing all of these assessments, a final one-day set of examinations. Following successful completion of these assessments and having completed one year's supervised practice, the candidate qualifies for membership of The College of Optometrists and is eligible to register as an optometrist with the General Optical Council (GOC).

Registration with the GOC is mandatory to practice in the UK. Members of the College of Optometrists may use the suffix MCOptom. Optometrists in the United Kingdom, as in most countries except the United States and Canada, receive a Bachelor of Optometry or Masters degree. They are not called "doctor" in the United Kingdom.

United States

As primary eye care providers, doctors of optometry are an integral part of the health care team, earning their doctoral degree just as dentists, podiatrists and other doctors do. Prior to admittance into optometry school, optometrists typically complete four years of undergraduate study, culminating in a bachelor’s degree. Required undergraduate coursework for pre-optometry students is extensive and covers a wide variety of advanced health, science and mathematics courses. Optometry school consists of four years of post-graduate, doctoral level study focusing on the eye, vision and associated systemic diseases. In addition to profession-specific courses, optometrists are required to take systemic health courses that focus on a patient’s overall medical condition as it relates to the eyes.

Upon completion of optometry school, candidates graduate from their accredited college of optometry and hold the doctor of optometry (OD) degree. Optometrists must pass a rigorous national examination administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). The three-part exam includes basic science, clinical science and patient care. Some optometrists go on to complete residencies with advanced training in a specific sub-specialty. These specialties can include pediatric care, children’s vision, geriatric care, pre- and post-surgery care, specialty contact lens (for keratoconus patients or other corneal dystrophies) and many others. All optometrists are required to participate in ongoing continuing education courses to stay current on the latest standards of care. Although optometry training in the United States is similar to that of the United Kingdom and many other countries, optometrists in the United States are among the few who are granted the degree of "Doctor of Optometry" instead of a bachelor's or master's degree in optometry.


Currently, optometry education and licencing varies through out Europe. For example, in Germany, the tasks of an optometrist are split between ophthalmologists and professionally trained and certified opticians. In France, there is no regulatory framework and optometrists are sometimes trained by completing an apprenticeship at an ophthalmologists' private office. [5]

Since the formation of the European Union, "there exists a strong movement, headed by the Association of European Schools and Colleges of Optometry (AESCO), to unify the profession by creating a European-wide examination for optometry" and presumably also standardised practice and education guidelines within EU countries.[6]

Distinction From Ophthalmology

Ophthalmologists complete a general medical degree (M.D.) at an accredited medical school, and an additional four years of postgraduate specialty medical and surgical training in ophthalmology. Ophthalmologists can manage ocular diseases (or ocular conditions) with medical and/or surgical treatments. Similar to optometry, there are also various sub-specialties within ophthalmology.

In addition to training with respect to medical conditions of the eyes and visual system, Optometry courses usually include many vision science subjects. Examples include courses in visual psychophysics, as well as training in aspects of functional vision such as vision therapy, binocular vision, and low vision. Ophthalmology training focuses more on dicks and medical and surgical management of ocular and systemic disease with less emphasis on functional vision. While both ophthalmologists and optometrists are trained in refraction, optometrists often receive more detailed training in prescribing optical aids such as spectacles and contact lenses. Hence optometrists are often more concerned with optical and vision therapy treatments.

The two fields often have a mutually beneficial relationship.

Ophthalmologists may refer patients to optometrists for optical aids or low vision rehabilitation whilst continuing to treat the ocular disease/condition that may have reduced vision. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists perform screening for common ocular problems affecting children (i.e., amblyopia and strabismus) and the adult population (cataract, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy). Optometrists may refer to ophthalmology for further assessment and medical treatment of ocular disease or condition. Optometrists and ophthalmologists sometimes co-manage treatment of strabismus and amblyopia with a combination of vision therapy, medical or surgical treatment.

See also Ophthalmology#Distinction_from_Optometry


There are currently nine sub-specialty residencies offered by various schools of optometry in the United States [1] [2]:

  1. Cornea and contact lenses
  2. Family practice optometry
  3. Geriatric optometry
  4. Glaucoma
  5. Low vision rehabilitation
  6. Ocular disease
  7. Pediatric optometry
  8. Primary care
  9. Vision therapy and rehabilitation

Many of these sub-specialties are also recognised in other countries.

Please note, refractive surgery and ocular surgery fellowships involve learning how to co-manage patients before and after eye surgery. Similarly, ocular disease residencies involve co-management practice with other health professionals. Also the College of Optometrists in Vision Development provides certification for eye doctors in vision therapy, behavioral and developmental vision care, and "visual rehabilitation". Training in binocular vision and orthoptics sub-specialties are often integrated into either pediatric or vision therapy programs.

See also

External links



Some optometry-related publications

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