Health: Taking Care of Your Eyes

By Gilda Spitz

According to an old proverb, "The eyes are the mirror of the soul." That's only one of many reasons why you should take good care of your eyes.

Who's who?

Are you confused by all the different types of people who can take care of your eyes? Not surprising, because the terms are very similar.

  • An optometrist is an eye care professional who examines and treats vision problems by prescribing contact lenses and glasses. He or she has earned the title O.D. through many years of university training specifically related to eye care. The College of Optometry at the University of Waterloo is the only English-speaking school of optometry in Canada. For more information, see www.collegeoptom.on.ca.
  • An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the eyes. He or she can prescribe medication for diseases such as glaucoma or cataracts, and can perform surgery if necessary. He or she earned a degree as a medical doctor, and then continued medical training to become an eye specialist. An ophthalmologist has the title MD as a medical doctor, and also FRCSC (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada) for the specialty. For more information, see www.eyesite.ca/english.
  • An optician is a person who provides either contact lenses or regular glasses for the correction of vision defects. In Ontario, an optician attends two to four years of special training through a community college, and must pass an examination with the College of Opticians of Ontario. For more information, see www.coptont.org/, or call 416-368-3616 or toll free 1-800-990-9793.

Although the three types of eye care professionals have different training and different skills, they work together closely to provide you with the eye care you need.

  • If you need glasses, your optometrist will give you a prescription for glasses or contact lenses that can be filled by an optician.
  • If the optometrist feels that you might need surgery, medication, or other special help with your eyes, he or she will refer you to an ophthalmologist.
  • Sometimes the optician works together with an optometrist or ophthalmologist in a shared office or optical store.

Visiting an eye care specialist

So, now that you know who's who - who do you visit first?

Dr. Brian Feinstein, an optometrist in Richmond Hill, Ontario, says, "the first line of contact is the optometrist." You should go for a routine eye exam once every year, and all children should be examined no later than the age of four years. "It's just like going to your family doctor," says Feinstein.

You can find an optometrist in your area at the local plaza or mall, or by asking your friends and neighbours. Or, go to www.collegeoptom.on.ca, click 'Find an Optometrist', type your location, and click 'Search'. You can even search for an optometrist in your area who speaks your home language.

If your optometrist recommends that you need to see an ophthalmologist, you will receive contact information and a referral.

If your optometrist gives you a prescription for glasses or contact lenses, you can fill the prescription at any optical store, such as LensCrafters, Hakim or Sears Optical.

Paying for your eye care

Depending on your situation, you may or may not have to pay for your eye examination at the office of your optometrist:

  • If you are between the ages of 20 and 64, your routine eye exams are not covered by OHIP. You can expect to pay about $75.00 for a routine eye examination. However, you may be able to get back some or all of this cost if you have eye care insurance through your employer.
  • People 65 years and older and under the age of 20 can receive free eye examinations once every 12 months, as long as they have a valid Ontario Health (OHIP) card.
  • People receiving assistance under the Ontario Disability Support Program, Ontario Works, or the Family Benefits Program can receive coverage for routine eye examinations once every two years.

Patients of any age with medical conditions or diseases affecting the eyes can visit an ophthalmologist at no charge.

If you receive a prescription for glasses or contact lenses, you can find an optician to fill your prescription at one of many optical stores in Ontario. For glasses, you can find a wide range of pricing, depending on your choice of frame and special features such as glare reduction. Similarly, contact lenses come in boxes of various quantities and prices, depending on your requirements.

Giving the gift of sight

If you have old glasses and frames that you don't need any more, don't throw them out! People overseas often cannot afford glasses, but they can benefit by using yours. For 2007, an organization called Gift of Sight plans to recycle 1.2 million pairs of glasses for third world countries.

Many optical stores help this worthy effort by collecting used glasses. If you want to help, drop off your used eyewear at locations such as LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, and Sears Optical. For more information, see www.givethegiftofsight.org/donatenow.

The Lions Club is also dedicated to helping vision care overseas. For more information, see www.lionsclubs.org/EN/content/vision_index.shtml.

CNM