Angie's LIST Guide to

Quite literally meaning "the science of the eyes." ophthalmology studies the way the eye works. Ophthalmologists care for this incredibly complex and delicate part of the body and the factors that affect its health.

Ophthalmologists and subspecialists

Ophthalmologists has completed medical school; four years of residency; an internship in surgery, internal medicine or pediatrics; and more training to become certified in the field. Because ophthalmologists perform operations, they are both surgical and medical specialists.

Subspecialties in the field require extra training. For example, oculoplastic surgery specifically deals with the reconstruction of the eye and surrounding area. These doctors repair droopy eyelids, fix tear duct obstructions and remove tumors in or near the eye in addition to eye and brow lifts.

Ocular oncology deals with cancer affecting the eye. Like other growths, tumors in the eye are either benign or malignant. They can also be either primary cancer, meaning the cancer started within the eye, or metastatic cancer, meaning it spread to the eye from another organ. Breast cancer and lung cancer are the most common cancers that spread to the eye.

Diseases of the eye

Disease, injury and degeneration can result in loss of eyesight. In children, the most frequent cause of vision loss is trauma to the eye or a case of amblyopia (lazy eye), whereas aging eyes gradually lose the ability to focus. Aside from those circumstances, major causes of adult blindness include cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and retinal detachment.

A person with cataracts gradually loses transparency in the lens in the eye, making the eye appear cloudy. This condition may follow injury, stem from an infection or occur in aging eyes.

Glaucoma causes abnormally high pressure inside the eye, which ultimately damages the optic nerve. The pattern of progressive damage usually begins with a loss of peripheral vision.

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive disease caused by diabetes where blood vessels in the retina swell and leak fluid. Unfortunately, retinopathy does not cause noticeable symptoms until significant damage has occurred. For this reason, ophthalmologists should examine diabetics' eyes regularly.

Retinal detachment happens when the retina is separated from the supportive layers at the base of the eye. Flashing lights or floaters are often the first sign of a retinal tear that precedes detachment. If you see a shadow and not floaters, this could mean the detachment has already occurred.

Treatments for vision problems

Eyes move and focus thousands of times each day. The internal eye muscles aid in shaping the lens to focus the rays on the back of the retina where the light turns into electrical impulses sent to the brain by way of the optic nerve.

When this process does not work properly, an ophthalmologist takes precise measurements to find the problem. Several tools help in this process. The slit-lamp, invented in 1911 by Allvar Gullstrand, illuminates the interior of the eye with a beam of light. A tonometer measures fluid pressure, and an opthalmometer measures the dimensions of the eye.

The doctor may use a laser to conduct delicate operations on the eye. This could mean refractive surgery, which alters the curvature of the cornea. This procedure is used to correct vision and reduce or eliminate the need for corrective lenses.

Finding the right ophthalmologist

As you search for an ophthalmologist, contact your health insurance provider to make sure that this medical specialty is covered. In many cases, vision care falls under a policy separate from your regular health insurance plan.

Obtain the health care provider directory from your health insurance company to find ophthalmologist in your network. Carefully research the eye doctors you are considering. Verify their qualifications, education, continuing education and accepted insurance plans by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings. 

When you find a short list of candidates, make an appointment to check out the office. Observe the staff and facility. Talk with the eye doctor and determine whether you can develop healthy doctor-patient relationship.

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