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Holistic Optometry vs. Traditional Optometry - What’s the Difference?

When you think of your optometrist (aka OD), what comes to mind? Someone who helps you see better with glasses or contact lenses, and monitors your eye health is likely your answer.

Did you know that there is a growing group of eye care providers who are invested in your whole-body wellbeing in addition to just your eyes?

I explain the differences between lesser-known optometry practices below. Thank you for sharing with someone who might benefit from this information. 

1. Traditional Optometry Across North America

Trained ODs in the US/Canada learn to diagnose and treat refractive disorders like myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism as well as manage ocular pathologies like glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. As primary care providers, ODs are like the general practitioner for the eyes, referring to specialty care or surgery as needed. Many ODs themselves may even choose to provide specialty care in the areas of dry eye, glaucoma, low vision, myopia control, or specialty contact lenses. Optometrists in North America attend a four-year doctoral program at an accredited college of optometry and must pass all parts of their respective country's board examination in optometry.

2. Developmental/Behavioral Optometry

Within the umbrella of optometry, there is a subset called developmental or behavioral optometry. This specially trained group takes eye care a step further to address binocular vision deficiencies related to everyday visual demands. They evaluate how the eyes work well together and how visual information is sent to, then processed by the visual cortex, which can drastically impact performance in school, work, sports, and life. Their primary focus is on the eye-brain connection and they address deficiencies with vision therapy exercises, therapeutic and prismatic lenses, and syntonic therapy (the use of colored lenses). Think of them as physical therapists for the eyes and brain. Many behavioral ODs choose to pursue their fellowship in COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development).

3. Holistic & Integrative Optometry

Further still down the mainstream of optometry are holistic or integrative optometrists. These ODs provide refractions and ocular health checks, and oftentimes address binocular vision disorders, just as behavioral ODs. They also evaluate the overall wellness as it relates to eye health and educate about lifestyle habits, diet, exercise, and perceived stress levels. Additionally, these ODs might provide more natural alternatives to eye care (either as solo or adjunct treatments), and/or refer to alternative wellness practitioners where necessary. To become certified as a holistic health practitioner requires specialty training above that of the professional optometry degree through an accredited institution.

Knowing the difference between these modes of practice in optometry is the key to addressing the right imbalances and getting the right care.

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