English vocabulary for going to the optician

English vocabulary for going to the optician

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 10, 2022

When you’re in a foreign country where you’re not fluent in the language, it helps to know at least a few key phrases for dealing with illness or an emergency. Knowing the right English words and phrases saves you a lot of time and trouble – and may even save your life. If you have problems with your vision, one place you may have to visit is the optician (the doctor who specializes in eyes). Here are English words and phrases that will help you communicate and get the help you need.

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Vocab words and phrases you’ll need for a visit to the optician

In case you need to visit the optician, these English words and phrases help you describe what you might need in terms of treatment, as well as understand what instructions and recommendations the optician gives.

Quick note: if you need to describe issues with other parts of your body, take a look at other useful vocabulary for doctor’s visits here.

Parts of the eye in English

There are many small parts of the eye with specific medical terminology. You can get a visual perspective from the below image:

parts of the eye labelled in English

It’s not absolutely necessary to know all of these words in detail before you visit the optician, but understanding a few of the basics can help you communicate more easily with your doctor.

The different types of eye care professionals 

Depending on the specific location or country’s healthcare system, you may have to visit a general practitioner (GP, a general medical doctor) or another type of eye doctor before going to the optician. Here is a list of professionals you can visit for eye problems and what they do:

Type of eye professionalWhat they specialize in
OptometristA professional who tests, diagnoses, treats, and manages vision problems.
OphthalmologistA medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the eye.
OpticianA professional who designs, fits, and dispenses eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other devices to correct your eyesight.

If you have problems with your vision in particular, it’s ideal to go first to an optometrist. They would then either recommend that you go to an ophthalmologist if you need further evaluation or they might prescribe lenses that the optician can design for you.

If you already have a lens prescription or need to have your glasses adjusted or repaired, you can go directly to an optician. They will take your facial measurements and help you choose the type of lens and frames that fits your individual needs. 

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During an eye examination

During an eye examination, an optician will likely ask that you undergo a few vision tests. Here are the phrases an eye care professional may use while they examine your eyes or design the correct devices for you. Here are some words to prepare you for an eye test:

Word or phraseDefinition
Snellen chartA chart used by optometrists and ophthalmologists to check for vision problems. Letters of varying sizes are printed on the chart and it is used to check for your ability to see details clearly from a distance.
Visual acuityThis refers to your eyes’ ability to distinguish shapes, letters, and objects at various distances.
Refraction testThis is a part of the eye examination where the eye professional asks you to look at objects through a device while they place lenses of different strengths in front of your eyes. This test helps them determine your eyeglass prescription. 
AccommodationThis refers to your eyes’ ability to focus on objects at varying distances. 
Depth perceptionThis refers to your ability to judge the relative distances of objects.
Peripheral visionThis refers to your ability to see or be aware of objects on your sides.

Common eye and vision problems

Here is some terminology for common eye and vision problems you may hear at the eye doctor. The optometrist or ophthalmologist may use them to describe your problem. Here is some useful ophthalmology vocabulary:

Word or phraseDefinition
MyopiaA condition where far away objects are not seen clearly. This is also called “nearsightedness”.
HyperopiaA condition where nearby objects are not seen clearly. This is also called “farsightedness”.
PhotophobiaA condition where the eyes can’t handle bright lights.
PresbyopiaA condition where the eyes have difficulty focusing at all distances. This is caused by aging of the eyes and is common among people over the age of 40.
StrabismusIn this condition, there is a lack of coordination between the eyes. This is also called “crossed eyes”.
AstigmatismIn this condition, the eyes cannot focus light uniformly, resulting in blurred vision and eyestrain.

Corrective devices

Once your vision problem has been diagnosed, the ophthalmologist or optometrist might recommend a corrective device that you can then get from the optician (or sometimes separately from another company at a reduced cost). Here are three of the most common:

Word or PhraseDefinition
Prescription lensesThese are framed glasses that are designed specifically for you to improve your vision.
Contact lensesThese are thin plastic lenses that are placed directly on the surface of the eyes to improve your vision.
Progressive lensesThese are lenses that could have either two (bi-focal) or more (multi-focal) prescriptions in one pair of glasses. These are for people who have problems seeing objects from both near and far distances.

Whether these devices are covered by your health insurance depends heavily on your country’s healthcare system and specific insurance provider. If you’re living or traveling abroad, it’s highly recommended to check your level of coverage before undergoing tests or treatment from an optician in order to understand if you have to cover any of the associated costs on your own.

For more information, take a look at our country-specific health insurance guides for:

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