General Ophthalmologist vs. Retina Specialist
There are several different types of eye care professionals, each with different levels of expertise and who offer specific types of care. Understanding these nuances is important for patients seeking the right practitioner in support of their ocular health.
Though there are finer details that distinguish a retina specialist from a general ophthalmologist, the core difference between them is, as the name would suggest, a matter of specialization. Ophthalmology is a broader branch of eye-focused medicine, and the retina subspecialty is tucked under that care umbrella. Ophthalmologists can become retina specialists if they complete the additional training required to provide retinal care.
Put a different way, all retina specialists are ophthalmologists, but not all ophthalmologists are retina specialists.
What is an ophthalmologist?
Defined simply, an ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in medical and surgical eye care. Reaching this milestone requires the completion of a four-year undergraduate program, a four-year medical school program, a one year internship, and a three-year residency program. At that point, one is considered a general or comprehensive ophthalmologist – a licensed professional who can perform surgery, and who has been trained in the prevention, diagnostics, and treatment of various eye conditions and diseases.
What do general ophthalmologists do?
A patient would see a general ophthalmologist for a variety of eye care services, which include the following:
- General eye exams
- Treatment for cataracts and glaucoma
- Eye surgery
- Prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses
- Vision therapy
In addition to addressing the more immediate needs of their patients through these services, many ophthalmologists participate in research that aids in the discovery or improvement of treatment options for various eye diseases.
Subspecialties of ophthalmology
General ophthalmologists can also select a subspecialty upon completion of their residency, becoming an expert in their chosen area of focus through a fellowship program. These areas include:
- Retinal and vitreous care
- Ocular oncology
- Ophthalmic pathology
- Pediatric ophthalmology
- Cornea and ocular surface
- Oculoplastics and orbital diseases
What is a retina specialist?
A retina specialist is an ophthalmologist who has completed the training necessary for medical and surgical treatments of retina, macula and vitreous conditions.
Though general ophthalmologists are able to manage and treat many eye conditions, signs of retinal issues during an exam may trigger a referral. Given the delicate nature of the retina — and the visual impairments that can occur through its damage — it is best to seek guidance from someone who specializes in retinal care.
What do retina specialists do?
Through the use of advanced diagnostic tools and testing, retina specialists can identify and treat a range of retinal injuries and conditions:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Vein occlusions & artery occlusions
- Retinal tears & detachments
- Macular conditions (e.g. macular holes, macular puckers, etc.)
- Flashes and floaters
- Retinal or macular edema
Treatment options include in-office procedures (injections and laser treatments) and surgical procedures (vitrectomy and scleral buckle).
The retina specialists of Pacific Northwest Retina
Our physicians are leaders in the retina field, offering the highest level of care to patients in Washington state for 16+ years. With seven clinics and four surgical centers, we pride ourselves on being available and accessible. Learn more about our team.