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Can I see an optometrist rather than a doctor or specialist if I have a red or sore eye, and if drops are needed can they prescribe these?

One of the most frequent reasons patients sees us is because of sore, itchy and/or red eyes.  The vast range of causes for these signs and symptoms include infection, inflammatory conditions and allergies generally as well as more specific conditions such as iritis, episcleritis, angle-closure glaucoma, ocular foreign bodies, dry eye, corneal abrasions, pinguecula and pterygia.  The list of such conditions is so long you could write a book about all these conditions (as a number of authors have).

By virtue of their training and equipment, optometrists are well placed to diagnose and differentiate between these many different conditions.  A significant part of optometrists’ training is directed at the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease at both the front and the back of the eye.

Importantly when looking at the front of the eye, optometrists are also equipped with a slit-lamp biomicroscope, an instrument that magnifies and illuminates the front of the eye, thereby enabling it to be viewed in great detail.  Optometrists also frequently use different coloured staining agents in conjunction with the slit-lamp to help them differentiate between conditions.

Since the early 2000s optometrists in Victoria have been permitted to prescribe eye drops that are prescription-only (dispensed only at a pharmacy), including antibiotics and topical steroids for example.  All new graduating optometrists are automatically qualified to sign such prescriptions.

Patients with red eyes generally require only a short appointment and usually can be accommodated at short notice, even on busy days.  No referral is needed to see the optometrist.  If the optometrist detects a more serious condition requiring medical treatment they are able to refer directly to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist).