Pediatric Ophthalmologist or Optometrist? A Guide to Kids’ Eye Doctors

kids eye doctors

Eye health is essential. Yet many people don’t care for their eyes.

Rates of vision impairment are going up. In 2000, 3.3 million Americans had visual acuity less than 20/40.

In 2010, that number has risen to 4.2 million. The National Institutes of Health project that by 2050, more than 12 million Americans will have impaired vision.

Many people associate vision impairment with age. But vision impairment can manifest in children. Taking your children to kids eye doctors should be a part of your health care regimen.

But who should you take them to? Here is a quick guide to finding out.


The first instinct of many parents when their children are sick is to take them to the pediatrician. Pediatricians are “all-around” doctors. Their specialty is children’s health, but they can treat a variety of ailments, including eye ailments.

All yearly wellness checks include a test for vision. Pediatricians can track your child’s vision over several years. If they notice a decline in performance, they can recommend an eye doctor to you.

Pediatricians can distinguish amongst a child’s various symptoms. Migraine headaches can cause vision problems and eye pain. If eye problems manifest alongside other symptoms, you should take your child to their pediatrician.

But if eye problems are the primary or sole symptom, pediatricians are not good. Most pediatricians will ask you to take your child to an eye doctor. Cut out the middleman and go straight to one.

Pediatric Ophthalmologists

Ophthalmologists are doctors who specialize in eye disease. Pediatric ophthalmologists specialize in eye diseases that impact children.

Common children’s eye problems include cataracts, watery eyes, and lumps. Your ophthalmologist can diagnose the problems and provide a treatment regimen.

Ophthalmologists have many tools at their disposal. They can conduct a thorough eye test.

Eye tests involve more than reading letters off a wall. A doctor can test multiple factors in eye functioning. They can examine depth perception, color vision, and responsiveness to light.

A doctor can use magnifying glasses and bright lights to inspect the eye. They examine the eyeballs and lids to determine how blood flows through the eyes.

To get a better view of internal structures, an ophthalmologist can dilate the pupils. This lets more light into the eye while exposing the optic nerve and retina. Dilated eye exams are essential to determine glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Tonometry measures the pressure inside the eye. High eye pressure is a common sign of glaucoma.

If eye problems are severe, ophthalmologists can perform surgeries. The most common surgeries are laser procedures like LASIK, but they can perform many others. Some require a stay in a hospital, though very few eye surgeries result in complications.

Ophthalmologists can break these tests down and assess for a variety of diseases. They can prescribe treatments, but they may not administer all of them.


Orthoptists are doctors who address specific problems involving vision and eye movements. Lazy, crossed, and wandering eyes require a specialized treatment plan. Orthoptists provide those treatments.

Most orthoptists work alongside ophthalmologists. Some may share the same office space. An ophthalmologist may diagnose a patient with an eye movement problem, then send the patient to an orthoptist.

Treatment plans often include corrective lenses. Eyeglasses or contacts may be the only treatment.

For movement problems with one eye, a doctor prescribes prism lenses. These are lenses that are thicker on one side. This reduces the amount of light entering the eye, preventing the eye from turning away.

Orthoptists can perform eye muscle surgery. Operations can straighten eye muscles, keeping an eye from becoming lazy.


Many people call optometrists “eye doctors.” But optometrists are not doctors of medicine like ophthalmologists are.

They are health care providers that specialize in eye care. Optometrists do hold doctorate degrees in optometry. They spend at least four years in graduate education, and most get additional training afterward.

Optometrists focus on regular vision care. They perform eye exams, prescribe eyeglasses, and monitor eye conditions. They can provide vision therapies like patches and therapeutic lenses.

Some optometrists may be more familiar with optical lenses than ophthalmologists. Multifocal and transition lenses are not common prescriptions, but they can be useful for someone who struggles with near- and farsightedness. Optometrists understand these kinds of lenses.

An optometrist can serve as an eye doctor for special needs kids. A few optometrists have clinics specifically for kids with ADHD, autism, and traumatic brain injuries.

Don’t assume all eye doctors are alike. Do your research. Talk to doctors about their experience and background with different therapies.


Opticians are another kind of specialized eye care provider. They design and fit prescription eye care. They work with eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other kinds of eyewear.

Opticians do not diagnose eye conditions or perform vision tests. They receive prescriptions from ophthalmologists and optometrists and carry them out. They are the last specialists in the line of kids eye care.

Opticians can advise you on how to care for your eyes. But for diagnoses and treatment plans, you should go to another doctor. Consult with opticians when you need to replace your child’s eyeglasses.

The Five Types of Kids Eye Doctors

Not all doctors are alike. Eye health is a multifaceted and important component of wellbeing. Because it is so important, there are several kinds of kids eye doctors.

Pediatricians are general practitioners, but they can help distinguish between eye problems and other issues. Pediatric ophthalmologists are the best doctors to go to. They diagnose and treat a wide range of eye problems.

Orthoptists help ophthalmologists with eye movement issues. Optometrists focus on regular vision care, though some help with children. Opticians specialize in eyeglasses and eyewear.

Take your kids to an eye doctor who knows each of these disciplines. EZ Optical has nearly 30 years of experience in eye care for children. Contact us today, or call us at 281-568-1171.