Buying glasses or contacts requires the services of an ophthalmologist, optometrist, or optician. If you’re like most of us, you can’t remember which of these “three Os” does what, even if you’ve been told a dozen times. So here it is again.


These physicians specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders of the eye. They are college graduates who have completed four years of medical school followed by an internship and additional clinical training. They check eyes for vision problems, eye diseases and abnormalities, and symptoms of general body disorders, such as diabetes or hypertension. They treat eyes with drugs, surgery, and other means, and prescribe corrective eyeglasses and contact lenses. Almost all ophthalmologists expect you to take the prescription they write for eyeglasses to one of the other types of specialists, but quite a few do dispense contact lenses.


Optometrists are not medical doctors but are properly referred to as doctors. They are college graduates who have completed four years of post-graduate training in optometry. Like ophthalmologists, optometrists perform eye exams that diagnose a wide range of eye problems as well as symptoms of general health problems. Some use visual training techniques to counter certain kinds of vision problems. They also prescribe, and usually also dispense, both eyeglasses and contact lenses.


Unlike the other two types of specialists, opticians are not required to have extensive training. To operate in New Jersey, opticians are required to be licensed by the state, but Delaware and Pennsylvania have no certification or licensing requirements. Opticians are not allowed to prescribe, but they fit, supply, and adjust eyeglasses and sometimes contact lenses prescribed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. A few opticians grind eyeglass lenses to the correct prescription, but most purchase lenses from a wholesaler and then fit them into the frame.