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Ophthalmologists are medical professionals who are licensed to practice eye medicine and surgery.

An ophthalmologist can:

  • perform eye exams
  • diagnose and treat eye disorders and diseases
  • perform eye surgery
  • prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses

According to the American College of Surgeons, they are the only healthcare practitioners that have received training to diagnose and treat all conditions that affect a person’s eyes and vision.

To qualify as an ophthalmologist in the United States, a person must complete approximately 12 years of education and training. This consists of 4 years each of college and medical school, alongside 4–5 years of additional training.

An ophthalmologist may choose to complete a fellowship to become a subspecialist in one area of eye health. This training prepares them to treat more specific or complex conditions in different parts of the eye or a particular group of people.

Subspecialists can specialize in:

  • The cornea: This focuses on cataract surgery, corneal transplantation, and refractive eye surgery.
  • The retina or uveitis: This area specializes in conditions that affect the retina and vitreous. This would include laser treatment and surgical treatment of conditions, including diabetic retinopathy and retinal detachment.
  • Glaucoma: This area focuses on medical and surgical treatment of conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve.
  • Pediatric ophthalmology: This subspecialty focuses on eye conditions that affect children.
  • Plastic and reconstructive surgery, or oculoplastics: This involves learning how to perform surgical procedures, including removing tumors and repairing bony fractures.
  • Neuro-ophthalmology: This area relates to the neurological conditions that include visual manifestations.
  • Ocular oncology: This involves the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in or around the eye.

What conditions do they treat?

Common conditions that ophthalmologists treat include:

  • cataracts, which cause a cloudy patch on the lens of the eye
  • glaucoma, which damages the optic nerve, leading to a build-up of fluid
  • strabismus, or squint, which is when the eyes are not aligned
  • amblyopia, or lazy eye, which is when the eyesight does not develop properly in one eye
  • retinal problems, such as swelling, bleeding, and retinal detachment
  • intraocular inflammation, which is inflammation that occurs within the eye
  • corneal pathology, which are diseases that affect the cornea

They can also treat:

  • macular degeneration, which affects the retina, resulting in central vision loss
  • minor and major eye injuries
  • infectious eye disease
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • rare diseases of the eye, such as bloody tears, or hemolacria

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