An ophthalmologist, also known as an eye doctor, is a medical professional who deals exclusively with parts of the body related to the visual passageways — the eyes, parts of the brain, and the areas around the eye, such as the eyelids. This doctor will inspect the eye for disease, and may perform surgery in some cases. He or she may also be able to identify problems that aren't directly related to vision, such as brain tumors or diabetes mellitus.
This vision professional is different from an optometrist. An ophthalmologist is a fully licensed medical doctor who is qualified to practice surgery, while an optometrist has completed a graduate degree in optometry. Optometrists deal with prescribing glasses or contact lenses for vision problems, but cannot perform surgery.
Sometimes, an ophthalmologist may have a particular specialty, such as diseases of the cornea, retina, and vitreous diseases; glaucoma; eye problems in children; or plastic surgery. He or she may have a more generalized practice, however, and may be involved with testing vision and prescribing corrective eye wear or contact lenses, as an optometrist would.
When surgery is required to correct a vision problem, there are several different techniques that an ophthalmologist may use. In some cases, he or she may need to use a scalpel and other invasive tools to remove obstructions from the eye; however, recently, laser eye surgery, or LASIK, has become very common.
In the LASIK system, the doctor creates a flap in the patient's cornea and then uses a highly accurate laser to remodel the middle section of the cornea, which improves the patient's vision. The technique relies on an advanced eye tracking system, and it is much safer than traditional eye surgery. It is not always as effective as it should be, however, and some reports indicate that as many as 18% of patients needed to go back for another treatment.
Besides the ophthalmologist and the optometrist, there are many other types of professionals who are involved in eye care. These include opticians, who design and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses; ophthalmic medical assistants, who assist doctors with general procedures; ophthalmic technicians, who assist with more advanced surgical procedures; and ophthalmic photographers, who take photographic images to document the quality of a patient's eye.