Many people who have been living with keratoconus for years, and even those who are just starting their journey, understand what it’s like to see multiple eye care professionals. When it comes to getting your eyes checked, it’s important to ensure that you are going to the appropriate eye care professionals to address your specific needs. Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians are all integral to your overall keratoconus care, and each plays a distinct role.
Optometrists are eyecare professionals who provide primary vision care, which can range from vision testing and optical correction, to disease diagnosis, treatment, and management. Optometrists can also play a large role in the diagnosis and treatment of keratoconus. Optometrists may diagnose keratoconus in their own office, or they may refer to other optometrists or ophthalmologists for additional diagnostic testing. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, patients may be referred to an ophthalmologist to discuss potential surgical or therapeutic treatment options, such as corneal cross-linking. Optometrists and ophthalmologists generally partner very closely in treating keratoconus patients. If you do end up requiring corneal cross-linking, or a different therapeutic or surgical treatment for your keratoconus, your optometrist will play a vital role in your post-operative care and ongoing management of your vision needs.
Optometrists provide fittings for contact lenses and glasses, both before and after treatments such as corneal cross-linking. While all optometrists receive training in contact lens fitting, some undergo additional training to become contact lens specialists, meaning that they can fit their patients with more customized or complex specialty lens designs, such as scleral lenses and Rigid Gas Permeable (RGPs) lenses.
Opticians are technicians who are trained to design, verify and fit glasses, contact lenses, and other corrective devices. Opticians do not diagnose and treat eye diseases or write prescriptions. They use prescriptions supplied by optometrists or ophthalmologists to create appropriate corrective lenses for patients.
An ophthalmologist is a medical or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye care, can diagnose and treat eye diseases and performs surgery, like corneal transplants or LASIK. They can also perform less-invasive therapeutic treatments, like corneal cross-linking. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can also be involved in scientific research on causes and cures for eye diseases and vision disorders.
While ophthalmologists are trained to care for all eye problems and conditions, some can specialize in a specific area, known as a subspecialist. Ophthalmologists typically complete one or two years of additional training, called a Fellowship, in one of the main subspecialty areas: Glaucoma, Retina, Cornea, Pediatrics, Neurology, etc. This additional training allows ophthalmologists to care for more complex or specific conditions.
Specifically, a cornea subspecialist diagnoses and manages corneal eye diseases, such as keratoconus. Many cornea subspecialists perform refractive surgery (such as LASIK) and/or corneal cross-linking, as well as corneal transplants.
Find a Cross-Linking Expert
While keratoconus can be diagnosed by either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, it is important to find a cross-linking expert in your area that is familiar with treating this progressive condition and is performing the FDA approved cross-linking procedure. When determining what keratoconus treatment path to follow, you should consult with your eye care providers to determine if corneal cross-linking is right for you. Visit our Find an Expert directory today to find a cross-linking expert who is performing FDA approved cross-linking.
If you are looking for additional information on the different types of eye care professionals, visit helpful resources and organizations, such as the American Optometric Association (AOA), the Opticians Associations of America, and the American Academy of Optometry to learn more.
If you’re also interested in learning more about keratoconus, follow Living with Keratoconus on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more information on keratoconus and FDA approved treatments. The National Keratoconus Foundation is another great resource for information on keratoconus.