An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has specialised in eye care; this is different from an optometrist who has trained only in eye care. You may find yourself referred to an ophthalmologist because of their expertise and medical knowledge. What kinds of conditions might they treat?
Loss of vision
Loss of vision can have a number of causes such as glaucoma, stroke, or damage to the eye itself. Patients who notice a change in their vision, particularly if it is sudden, may be referred to an ophthalmologist who will be best placed to diagnose the underlying condition and decide upon the treatment.
Conditions requiring surgery
As ophthalmologists are surgeons, they can operate to correct a number of eye conditions. They can perform laser surgery to reshape the cornea in order to treat short-sightedness and long-sightedness; cataract surgery, in which the lens is replaced; surgery to remove tumours from the eye, or to repair damage from an injury; and they can operate to correct strabismus in which the eyes are not aligned properly. This can lead to a marked improvement in the patient's quality of life.
Glaucoma is a disease in which the optic nerve between the eye and the brain is damaged, sometimes (but not always) by pressure on the nerve by a build-up of fluid. This can lead to problems with vision, including blurring and pain. Although the disease cannot be prevented or the damage reversed, ophthalmologists can intervene to prevent further damage, often by using laser surgery to open a new drainage channel for the fluid in the eye.
This is a condition in which the macula, the area in the centre of the retina that controls visual acuity, deteriorates and affects the ability to make out fine detail. The condition can be controlled by medicines but will need to be treated by an eye doctor who is trained in monitoring the condition.
Underlying health conditions
Sometimes, problems with the eye can be caused by general health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, rather than problems specific to the eye. This may need general medical knowledge to treat rather than an eye specialist, so you may be referred to an ophthalmologist.
If you have any questions about your eye problems or referral, be sure to ask your eye doctor. He or she will be happy to set your mind at rest and give you further advice.