Eye Health Central

When to See an Optometrist and When to See a Doctor

Doctor or Optometrist? It depends on your symptoms

Having good vision is a critical aspect of our well-being and quality of life. Have you ever tried squinting your eyes for long periods of time or walking around the house with your eyes closed? We wouldn't advise it! It usually doesn’t end well.

Ensuring optimal eye health involves recognising the right time to consult an optometrist or a GP. However, distinguishing between the two can be really confusing. In this article, we aim to shed light on when it's best to see an optometrist and when it might be more appropriate to see a doctor.

Optometrist: Your Eye Health Specialist

An optometrist is a primary health care professional trained to examine, diagnose, treat, and manage vision changes and diseases or conditions related to the eyes. Optometrists can prescribe glasses, contact lenses, and some medications for eye conditions you may have. But when exactly should you consider seeing an optometrist?

1. Routine Eye Exams: Even if you don't experience any vision problems, it's crucial to have regular eye check-ups. Routine exams help in the early detection of vision problems or diseases like glaucoma or macular degeneration.
2. Vision Changes: If you notice blurriness, double vision or you’re having difficulty reading or seeing close-up or far away, it might be time to get your eyes checked with an optometrist.
3. Eye Fatigue or Strain: Prolonged computer use, reading, or other intense tasks can lead to you experiencing eye fatigue. Your optometrist can suggest remedies or prescribe glasses to alleviate the strain, or even advice regarding changing your contact lenses.
4. Contact Lens Consultation: If you're considering switching from glasses to contact lenses or you’re experiencing discomfort with your current ones, your optometrist can advise you on the best fit and solution.
5. Minor Eye Irritations: If you have red eyes, dry eyes or mild allergies, these often be treated or managed with the advice and prescriptions provided by your optometrist.

Eye trauma

Doctor: Broader Medical Concerns

While optometrists are specialised in eyes, GPs, or more specialised doctors like ophthalmologists, address broader health concerns, including those that might manifest as eye issues. Here’s when you should consider seeing a doctor:

1. Severe Eye Trauma: In case of a significant injury, chemical burn, or any sudden, severe pain in the eye, you should seek emergency medical attention by either attending the A and E department of your local hospital or in an emergency calling an ambulance. 
2. Persistent Pain and Redness: While minor irritations can be addressed by an optometrist, if you experience constant pain or redness, especially accompanied by nausea or headache, this could be a sign of more severe conditions like acute glaucoma and this requires immediate medical intervention.
3. Sudden Vision Loss: A sudden loss of vision or a sudden appearance of floaters and flashes could indicate retinal detachment, which is a medical emergency, so head to the A and E department.
4. Underlying Health Conditions: Diseases like diabetes and hypertension can affect your eye health. If you have these conditions, regular check-ups with a general physician and sometimes an ophthalmologist are crucial.
5. Surgical Solutions: If there's a need for eye surgery, such as cataract removal or corrective surgeries like LASIK, you would typically see an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specialised in eye surgeries and treatments. 


While there is some obvious overlap in the services provided by optometrists and doctors, understanding their distinct roles will help guide you in seeking the right care you need at the right time you need it. Sometimes your optometrist might detect an issue that needs a doctor's intervention and will of course refer you accordingly. The crucial point here for you to remember is that you need to be proactive about your eye health. Early detection and timely intervention, whether by an optometrist or a doctor, are essential for maintaining good vision and overall health. 

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 26 Sep 2023, Last modified: 20 May 2024