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Can Optometrists Prescribe Medication in California?

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California is the most heavily regulated state in America, with almost 400,000 regulatory restrictions. Unfortunately, some of these restrictions affected the level of care that an optometrist could provide if they discovered something during an eye examination.

Up until recently, an optometrist would have to refer their patients to an ophthalmologist or other medical doctor who was able to prescribe the required treatment. This was frustrating, considering most optometrists are qualified and trained to treat much more than they are permitted to by law, especially in California. 

Optometrist Qualifications

The minimum education requirement to become a Doctor of Optometry (OD) in the United States is 7 to 8 years of postsecondary education. First, an individual must complete a 3 or 4-year Bachelor’s degree program.

Once they’ve completed the undergraduate degree and all required prerequisite courses, they must attend a 4-year optometry program at an accredited Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) school.

While you don’t have to go to medical school to become an optometrist, the ASCO recommends that an individual complete several medical school prerequisites such as Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Microbiology, and General Physics as part of their undergraduate degree.

Keeping in mind that these are only minimum requirements, many optometrists engage in ongoing education to increase their areas of expertise. All this to say, an OD is more than qualified to perform the treatments California regulations finally allow as of 2022.

Can Optometrists Prescribe Medication in California?

According to the American Optometric Association, the Governor of California signed a bill (AB 407) that allows optometrists to prescribe medication with only a few limitations as of January 1, 2022. Previous to this, Californian optometrists were severely limited by law in the medications they could prescribe and procedures they could perform. 

Some of the main points of this new bill are:

  • Optometrists are permitted to use antivirals and antifungals. They also no longer require a referral for anti-allergy agents.
  • They are allowed to treat all non-cancerous anterior segment conditions and inflammation in adults and children. Some limitations remain, such as various treatments for patients under 18.
  • They can order additional medical tests.
  • They are permitted to use scalpels for removing foreign bodies, intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, and low-level light therapy.
A woman looking up holding a bottle of prescription eye drops to use in her eye

Types of Medication an Optometrist may Prescribe

Now that the laws have changed, optometrists are freed to be more involved in treating many different eye conditions or diseases. Here are several conditions that Californian eye doctors are now allowed to treat:

Pink eye (conjunctivitis)

Typically pink eye treatment is focused on relieving symptoms through various means such as proper cleaning, warm compresses, or over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops. Also, most optometrists will recommend you stop wearing contacts if you usually do.

However, suppose these symptom relief treatments aren’t effective in clearing up the issue. In that case, your optometrist may prescribe several types of medicated eye drops ranging from antiviral to steroidal. In some cases, the eye doctor may prescribe an antibiotic, but pink eye is rarely bacterial.

Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye disease, also known as dry eye syndrome or simply dry eye, is very common in the United States. According to the National Eye Institute, more than 16 million Americans suffer from dry eye.

In many cases, OTC lubricating eye drops and managing environmental factors is enough to treat symptoms. However, if your eye doctor thinks the condition is caused primarily by inflammation, they may prescribe an anti-inflammatory eye drop like cyclosporine to reduce the inflammation. Another approved medication your eye doctor may prescribe is Lifitegrast.

Other Medications

Here are several other conditions that your eye doctor may treat with prescription medication:

  • Glaucoma: One of the major problems with glaucoma is pressure in the eye. Your doctor may prescribe Xalatan, Rhopressa, Betoptic, or several others.
  • Cataracts: Other than surgery, there is no treatment to restore vision loss due to cataracts. However, an eye doctor may prescribe eye drops before and/or after the surgery. They may give you antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, or corticosteroid eye drops to prevent infection and reduce the risk of complications.
  • Wet Macular Degeneration: Avastin, Lucentis, Eylea, and Beovu are four standard options for treating this disease. They are considered the first line of treatment by many optometrists.

Find Out More About How an Optometrist Can Help You

If you’re still concerned that visiting an optometrist won’t provide you with answers or treatments that you may need, give us a call today. Our experienced staff at Total Vision are happy to answer any questions you have. They can also recommend the closest clinic to you for a convenient visit.

Written by Total Vision

At Total Vision, we pride ourselves on ensuring healthy eyes for the whole family and work hard to help all our patients look, feel, and see better. With many locations throughout California, we continue to set new industry standards for professionalism and quality. We empower all our partners to offer leading-edge testing, treatment, and eyewear. With the support of our entire network behind each care provider, patients all over the state can enjoy consistent quality and incredible value.
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