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What is Ophthalmology?

Doctors and Medical Specialties

Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine specializing in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases and conditions of the eye. Ophthalmologists are doctors who are trained to provide eye care. They are required to graduate from medical school and complete a one or two year residency in a specific specialty of the eye. Some eye doctors hold a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.), rather than an M.D. degree, but similar residency requirements apply to both types of degrees. An ophthalmologist handles eye exams, chalazions, cataract surgery, screenings, promotes eye health, and helps to prevent diseases of the eyes and blindness.

Ophthalmology specialties include:

  • Glaucoma - Glaucoma causes optic nerve damage. Ophthalmologists who practice in this specialty treat glaucoma medically and surgically in adults and children.
  • Cornea and external disease - Ophthalmologists who specialize in diseases of the cornea perform corneal transplants and corrective surgery caused by infections, tumors, and diseases.
  • Ophthalmic pathology - Ophthalmologists who also study pathology frequently diagnose diseases of the eye.
  • Neuro-ophthalmology - Neuro-ophthalmology is a nonsurgical specialty. These doctors diagnose and treat the optic nerve and visual pathways.
  • Ophthalmic plastic surgery - Orbital surgery, cosmetic eyelid surgery, and upper facial reconstructive surgery are performed by ophthalmologists who specialize in plastic surgery. They are also trained to use radiation and chemotherapy to treat diseases of the eye.
  • Ocular oncology - Ocular oncology deals with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer of the eye, orbit and eyelids.
  • Vitreoretinal disease - This specialty deals with treatment of retinal and vitreoretinal disease. Ultrasound, fluorescein angiography, laser therapy electrophysiology, cryotherapy, retinal detachment surgery, and vitrectomy are used in the diagnosis and treatment of retinal and vitreoretinal diseases.
  • Pediatric ophthalmology - Pediatric ophthalmologists are specially trained to diagnose and treat diseases and conditions of the eye in growing children and teens.
  • Lasik surgery - Ophthalmologists who perform refractive eye surgery help patients improve vision without glasses or contact lenses.

An ophthalmologist should not be confused with an optometrist, who is licensed to provide primary eye care services. An optometrist must complete a four year graduate program (O.D.), followed by an optional residency. An optometrist may perform examinations for cataracts, glaucoma, retinal diseases. diabetes and other conditions that affect the eyes. Optometrists prescribe glasses, contact lenses, vision rehabilitation, medications, and minor surgeries like the removal of foreign bodies.

Any person seeking eye and vision care should be sure to seek a qualified ophthalmology professional. Verify credentials before seeing an ophthalmologist or optometrist for diagnosis or treatment. Before receiving LASIK or any other type of eye surgery, be sure the surgeon has received adequate training and experience performing the procedure.

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