Consumer Information

What You Should Know About Optometrists and Their Services

What is optometry?

Optometry is the diagnosis and treatment of disease, optical deficiencies and deformities, and visual and muscular irregularities as related to the human eye and adjacent tissue.

Optometrists are independent primary health care providers who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the visual system.

How do optometrists treat these conditions?

Optometrists perform the following:

  • Prescribe, provide, adapt, and fit corrective lenses, contact lenses, and low-vision rehabilitative devices
  • Prescribe such things as prism lenses and eye exercises to correct eye-muscle imbalances
  • Prescribe or administer drugs for the treatment of eye conditions (with additional State certification)

When would I use the services of an optometrist?

Eye pain, redness, blurred vision, and complaints such as headaches or eyestrain after visual tasks are common reasons individuals seek the services of an optometrist. Most of these problems can be treated by the prescribing of eye drops or corrective lenses.

Some New York optometrists hold an additional State certification to treat eye infections and other eye diseases; you may consult these practitioners about these less common conditions. See the Verifying a New York License section of this brochure for information about verifying additional certifications.

What can I expect to happen during an examination?

Routine eye examinations performed by licensed optometrists typically include the following:

  • taking of a medical history
  • testing for eye muscle coordination
  • testing for ocular related neurological deficits (pupil testing)
  • testing for the best possible visual correction (refraction)
  • internal evaluation of the eye with the use of diagnostic drugs
  • visual fields testing as indicated

Optometric offices have instruments which, among other things, evaluate the health of various parts of the eye. The ophthalmoscope, for example, is the instrument most patients are familiar with; it allows your optometrist to view the back of your eye.

Is there a usual age for a child to get his or her first eye exam?

Your baby's eyes should be examined for signs of congenital eye problems. These are rare, but early diagnosis and treatment are important to your child's development.

Generally, children should have their first thorough eye exam at six months of age to determine if there are any visual problems. A more comprehensive examination should be performed when the child is three years of age, and again before the child begins school. Unusual signs or symptoms should prompt earlier and more frequent evaluations.

Does New York State mandate shatter resistant lenses for school age children?

New York State does not mandate shatter resistant lenses but the New York State Optometry Board recommends shatter resistant (poly-carbonate and trivex) eye glass lenses for school age children.

Can I buy my prescription eyeglasses online?

New York State law requires prescription eyewear to be fitted and dispensed in person by a licensed practitioner (ophthamlic dispenser/optician, optometrist, ophthalmologist). Although any number of websites offer the sale of eyewear, the consumer must be aware of a number of things. Prescription eyeglasses are highly customized. There are numerous measurements that go into the fitting and fabrication that cannot be conveyed over the phone or internet. These include, but are not limited to: the shape of your nose and ears, the width of your face and the overall size of your head. Measurements such as these, and bifocal or multifocal height, can only be measured when you are face to face with a dispenser wearing the eyeglass frames you are planning to purchase.

In addition, the form, thickness, and material that your prescription lenses are made of should be discussed with your eyecare professional. A bargain that may be advertised online may result in a pair of glasses being heavier than necessary, or cause eye fatigue or headache.

New Yorkers are advised to be wise consumers and consult their eyecare professional.

What credentials do New York licensed optometrists have?

New York licensed optometrists have completed a four-year postgraduate program of classroom and clinical training that resulted in the doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree. Most practitioners have also completed an undergraduate degree with an emphasis in chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and physics.

Optometry programs include advanced studies in optics (the science of light and vision) and the human visual system, as well as extensive training in lens design, construction, application and fitting. Optometric education also includes studies in human anatomy, general pharmacology, general pathology, sensor and perceptual psychology, biochemistry, statistics and epidemiology.

New York State licensed optometrists have also passed an intensive three-part examination, including a practical or "hands-on" examination.

How do I locate an optometrist?

The most reliable information may be a recommendation from a satisfied friend or relative. Professional associations may also provide the names of their members who practice in your area. You may also check under "Optometrists" in the yellow pages. The State Board for Optometry cannot refer you to a practitioner.

What records does my optometrist maintain; can anyone else get them?

Your optometrist keeps a record of examination findings, including your prescription. Optometrists must keep patient records for six years or until the patient turns 22, whichever is longer.

Generally, your records are confidential unless you approve their release. Ask your professional about exceptions to this. If you want a copy of your records, provide your optometrist with a written request. You may be charged a reasonable fee to offset the cost of providing copies.

What questions should individuals with disabilities ask about accessing services?

Ask such questions as whether the service location is physically accessible (curb cuts, ramps, restrooms, etc.) as well as whether there is a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) and parking for people with disabilities.

To help your professional relationship with your optometrist you should:

  • Ask any questions you have about diagnoses and treatments; schedule enough time to have all of your questions answered.
  • Be aware of what services are being provided, how much they cost, and what follow-up services may be required.
  • Ask about the effects and adjustments you might need to make as a result of a change in your prescription or the administration of eye drops used in examinations and treatments.

Verifying a New York license:

New York optometrists must display a current New York registration certificate; this certificate lists the professional's name, address, and dates of the registration period. Licensees must reregister every three years to practice in New York. Some professionals also display their original New York license, diploma, licenses from other states, and membership certificates. You may verify an individual's license and registration on this site.

Last Updated: November 19, 2010