Who do I go and see with my sore or red eye?

When you have a problem with your eye, where do you think to go with it? The doctor? The pharmacist? Accident and emergency?

Did you know that on your doorstep, or at least on your local high street, there's someone who has spent years studying eyes and their pathologies – your friendly neighbourhood optometrist!

Frequently we don't think to utilise this local, easily accessed knowledge base, and this could be for a number of reasons.

I suppose historically, the doctor was the first port of call for all ailments, but that was in the 1940s and 50s. It's true that optometrists don't generally issue prescriptions for eye drops, but in most areas there are now schemes in place for the man (or woman) in the street to see their optometrist when they have an eye problem other than a refractive (needing spectacles) issue for free – regardless of age or whether they are on benefits.

You see, as an optometrist, I studied at university for 3 years, primarily studying the eye, its anatomy and physiology, its optics and its maladies, your local GP or pharmacist just doesn't generally have that experience. I think a lot of people see their local optician as a “spectacle seller”, rather than a knowledgeable eye-care professional. Slowly, we are hoping to change that perception.

In Kirklees, we have a “PEARS” (Primary Eye-care Acute Referral Scheme) service allowing doctors or patients to refer their patients or themselves to a local optometrist for assessment of a number of conditions from flashes and floaters to acute sore red eyes. The optometrist will assess the condition and recommend suitable treatment. Frequently this will be “over the counter” medication, in other cases the optometrist will recommend a suitable treatment to be prescribed by the family doctor.

It is not rare for me to see a patient who has decided to seek help from their family doctor for an eye problem, who will typically treat them with drops for conjunctivitis, only for me to see corneal ulceration requiring a vastly different treatment. Optometrists will all have a slit lamp in their practice – this will allow us to see your eyes under very high (typically up to 40x) magnification. A hand-held ophthalmoscope will only give 4x magnification, and requires us to get uncomfortably close to patients.

So when should someone go to the optometrist above their general practitioner with an eye problem? Well, I'd say that if you can consult the optometrist – that is to say your eye is not so overwhelmingly sore as to make you go straight to casualty, then you should go straight to the optometrist. In those other cases – hospital IS the best place to be seen. This leaves the family doctor's appointments free for patients that they are best able to treat, and allows the public to access our expert local ocular help.

If you are unsure – then ring us on the numbers shown below. We'll make sure you get seen in a timely manner at the right location.