General Ophthalmologist vs. Retina Specialist
What is an ophthalmologist?
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors that specialize in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of vision-related conditions and general eye health. After completing a four-year medical school program, ophthalmologists enter into a four-year postgraduate residency program that specially trains them for the medical and surgical management of eye diseases. Upon completion of their ophthalmology residency, they are known as general or comprehensive ophthalmologists.
What do general ophthalmologists do?
General ophthalmologists provide a broad spectrum of eye care services, including general eye exams, diagnostics, prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses, vision therapy, and surgery. Some of the most common conditions that ophthalmologists treat are cataracts and glaucoma.
Subspecialties of ophthalmology
After completing their ophthalmology residency, ophthalmologists have the option of choosing a subspecialty to focus on. These include:
- Retinal and vitreous care
- Ocular oncology
- Pediatric ophthalmology
- Ophthalmic pathology
- Cornea and ocular surface
- Oculoplastics and orbital diseases
Each subspecialty requires the completion of a fellowship, which is a period of medical training that prepares doctors to become experts in their chosen subspecialty.
The Retina Subspecialty of Ophthalmology
One popular area of focus within ophthalmology is retina care. The retina is a highly specialized multi-layered tissue that lines the back wall of the eye. It is the primary mechanism behind our ability to see. When light enters the eye, it hits the retina, which translates the light into neural impulses. The optic nerve communicates these neural signals to the brain, which processes the information into an image.
The retina can be damaged by a wide variety of issues, including age, traumatic injuries, and diseases. Retinal damage can lead to various visual impairments, including total and permanent vision loss. Because of the retina’s function, delicate structure, complexity, and location, these conditions are best managed by ophthalmologists who have specialized in retinal care by completing a fellowship in vitreoretinal disease and surgery.
Retina specialists are very passionate about vision-saving care. They dedicate a significant amount of time, effort, and energy to their medical training so that they can help improve the lives of their patients by utilizing the most advanced technologies available. Becoming a retina specialist also gives ophthalmologists an opportunity to participate in groundbreaking research and clinical trials.
Many eye conditions can be managed and treated by general ophthalmologists; however, general ophthalmologists will often refer their patients to retina specialists if there are any signs of retinal problems. Some of the most common conditions that are diagnosed, managed, and treated by retina specialists include:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Retinal tears
- Retinal detachment
- Vitreous hemorrhage
- Vascular occlusive diseases
- Macular conditions (e.g. macular holes, macular puckers, etc.)
- Retinal or macular edema
To diagnose and keep track of these conditions, retina specialists rely on several types of diagnostic tools and imaging methods. They also perform a number of in-office treatments, such as intraocular injections and laser therapy. Retina specialists are also trained to perform highly delicate retinal surgeries, including vitrectomy and scleral buckle.