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Opticians: Education, Services Provided, and When to See One

While opticians might have lesser qualifications and narrower scope of practice than other members of an eye care team, these technicians are the lifeline of vision care services. An optician is an ophthalmologic practitioner trained to design, fit and dispense lenses for correcting visual issues.

optician holding glasses

Eye care specialists include ophthalmologists, optometrist(s) and opticians. Opticians who work in vision centers are almost always frontline employees who provide basic customer service in addition to their primary technical roles. They take appointments, clean glasses, fit customers for frames and sell them eyewear.

These technicians acquire their skills through learn-on-the-job formal programs and receive associate degrees or certificates after completion. They do not have medical training. As a result, they cannot perform eye exams, diagnose vision issues or prescribe treatment for eye conditions.

Besides hospitals and clinics, some opticians work with optometrists in private practice.

Opticians Education and Training

The educational requirements for one to practice as an optician vary from state to state. While some states require opticians to complete an associate’s degree or certificate and receive a practice license through a professional regulatory body, most states do not. Students can secure opticianry training through an apprenticeship or a formal education.

Apprenticeships

Apprentice acquire the necessary skills by working under an ophthalmologist or optometrist in a vision center. They first observe how optometrists serve clients. Later, they perform different tasks under supervision. An apprenticeship route gives real-world experiences without simulations.

Formal Education

Formal educational training is gained through an accredited college, and it is essential for anyone who wants to practice in one of the 23 states with licensing requirements. Training programs usually last one to two years. Programs teach anatomy and physiology of the eye, contact lens technology and other ophthalmic topics.

Upon successful completion of the training program, students receive either a certificate or an associate’s degree. Although certification by National Contact Lens Examiners or the American Board of Opticianry is optional, students often complete a certification exam, which enables them to practice anywhere across the country.

What Does an Optician Do?

Opticians can work in retail stores, hospitals and clinics, or else then can go to a private practice under an ophthalmologist or optometrist. The functions of an optician in any of these settings range from technical to administrative and customer service.

Typically, an optician interprets the prescription written by an ophthalmologist or optometrist and dispenses the corrective lenses- contact lenses and eyeglasses. In addition, they fit the customers’ eyeglasses by molding the frames with particular tools. Opticians can also fit and dispense other devices such as low-vision aids.

Clients with eyewear issues usually spend more time with opticians than other eye care team members. They even educate patients on the proper care for eyewear.

Opticians might also perform administrative roles such as tracking inventory and sales, especially in retail centers.

Technicians are not permitted to perform eye tests or write prescriptions because the lack the formal medical training.

What Conditions Do Opticians Treat?

Opticians are ophthalmic technicians trained to design, fit and dispense eyewear using prescriptions written by eye specialists. Because of their limited training, opticians neither diagnose nor prescribe treatment for any visual problem.

Reasons to See an Optician

Besides the recommended biannual visits to an eye doctor after age 40, you need to see an optician when you develop any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Frequent headaches: New-onset headaches can be the only pointer to visual problems like nearsightedness or glaucoma. If you develop horrible headaches radiating to the eye socket, consider seeing an optician immediately to ascertain the cause of the headache.
  • Blurry vision: Whether you are struggling to see far or near objects, visiting an optician might help restore your vision.
  • Dry and itchy eyes: Dry eyes with light sensitivity or other associated features typically resolve in a few days for most people. However, some might be severe and interfere with vision, necessitating an ophthalmological visit.
  • Floaters and flashes. Although floaters usually pose no threat to your vision, a sudden increase in their number can indicate a severe underlying eye problem, and you’ll need to see a specialist.
  • Outdated eyeglass prescription: If you cannot remember the last time you had an eye exam or the last time your lens prescription was adjusted, you can also visit your optician to confirm the dates and ensure you do not have any new issues.

Optician vs. Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist

Although they are all part of the eye care team, they perform different roles and have varying qualifications. Opticians have a one or two-year training in fitting and dispensing glasses, contact lenses and other vision-correcting devices. The annual salaries for opticians vary with state, experience and education level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for opticians is $37,860 per year. 

On the other hand, optometrists have a four-year training and can diagnose and treat certain eye disorders. Their average salary is about $118 050 per year, three times higher than an optician’s.

Unlike opticians and optometrists, ophthalmologists have a medical background along with up to 13 years of formal training. They can perform eye exams and diagnose and treat all visual abnormalities, either medically or surgically. As the most experienced eye specialist, an ophthalmologist earns about $203,450 per year.

How to Find an Optician Near You

The American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners website allows you to find certified opticians within your city. The portal requires you to enter your name, location and designation of the practitioner you are searching for.

FAQs

What does an optician do?

Opticians are trained to fit and dispense corrective lenses according to the ophthalmologist’s or optometrist’s prescription. Since they lack medical training, opticians should not perform eye examinations or prescribe treatment for visual abnormalities.

How long does it take to become an optician?

After high school, it takes between one to two years of training and certification to begin practicing as an optician.

Is an optometrist the same as an optician?

Even though both opticians and optometrists do not have any medical background, they differ in educational training requirements, work scope, and compensation for their services.

References

  1. Eye and Vision Care Professionals and Education. (September 2016). National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

  2. Difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician. American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

  3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Optometrists. (September 2021). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  4. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. (July 2020). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  5. ABO and NCLE Online Searchable Database. (2021). American Board of Optometry and National Contact Lens Examiners.

Last Updated February 26, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.