Saturday 3 December 2011

What is the difference between an optician, an orthoptist and an optometrist?

The optician may be your first port of call if you have a concern about your eyesight. People at any rate ought to have regular eye checks with an optician. Opticians make up and dispense glasses rather like chemists or pharmacists dispense medicine. According to the measurement they have been given, they will show you the range of frames and types of lenses you can have, depending on your budget. 
Optometrists usually seem to have their practice with the optician. These professionals work with the optician and they are the ones who actually measure your vision. Optometry is the science of measuring eyes. They might use just a few tests or a whole battery of tests to measure your eyes. The commonest test is the eye-chart with large letters at the top and small letters at the bottom. This is usually measured at a distance of six metres or 20 feet in the USA. In a confined space they may have a mirror to achieve the same distance or they may do the measurement at three metres (ten feet).

Then there are people called orthoptists. The orthoptist I was told years ago is the ‘squint lady’. They are doctors who treat squints. A squint is called by different names: it is sometimes known as strabismus and sometimes it is called exotropia (outward squint) or esotropia (inward squint). Squints are fairly common in young babies, with whom it usually disappears by six months of age. A squint is a condition where the two eyes are not aligned. Proper binocular or stereoscopic vision (two eyes) gives us a good three-dimensional view of the world and the ability to locate where things are precisely. If the eyes are misaligned or not straight we lose the ability to see three-dimensionally and so find a difficulty with judging distances exactly. For instance if you have a squint driving may sometimes create problems; picking up a glass may be problematic; threading a needle may be impossible! But there is one important factor about a squint that should never be overlooked. It makes eye contact very difficult. For this reason it will impact on a child’s social relationships and social skills. Other children may tease them and they may feel socially awkward. There are three solutions for a squint. The first is patching the good eye as a baby to make the weak eye work. The second is spectacles with different strengths to make the weak eye work. The third is an operation to cut the muscles and straighten the eyes. The latter is usually done as a last resort and mainly for cosmetic reasons. In other words it may be done so late in a child’s life that it does not affect vision at all. The orthoptist uses prisms to measure a person’s squint.

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