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Ophthalmic: What does it mean?

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Something that is ophthalmic (ahf-THAL-mick) simply relates to the eye(s) in some way. This exact relation will vary depending on how the term is used.

For easier understanding, try mentally replacing the term “ophthalmic” with “eye-related.” For example, try thinking of an ophthalmic technician as an eye-related technician or an ophthalmic migraine as an eye-related migraine.

A handful of ophthalmic terms are used more often than others. Each has a slightly different meaning, but they all relate to the eyes in some form.

Common uses of “ophthalmic” include:

Ophthalmic technician

An ophthalmic technician helps an ophthalmologist (a medical eye doctor) with certain examinations and tasks relating to a patient’s eyes.

Ophthalmic technicians are typically responsible for:

  • Gathering a patient’s medical history.

  • Performing basic tests to check for eye conditions and diseases.

  • Measuring the patient’s visual acuity (sharpness) and determining their vision prescription.

  • Assisting the doctor during certain tests and procedures.

  • Administrative tasks such as appointment scheduling and inventory management.

Be careful not to confuse ophthalmic technicians with ophthalmic technologists. Technologists generally require additional training and are qualified to provide assistance during surgeries and other delicate procedures.

Ophthalmic migraine

Ophthalmic migraine is another name for a retinal or ocular migraine. Casually, you might also hear them called “eye migraines.” These are all terms for the same condition.

Ophthalmic migraines are relatively rare and usually present with the following symptoms:

  • Partial or complete vision loss in one eye.

  • Eyesight that usually returns to normal within an hour.

  • A headache (not in all cases).

An ophthalmic migraine can sometimes suggest the presence of a more serious condition. People who experience eye pain or changes in vision should schedule an appointment with an eye doctor.

A visual migraine is not the same as an ophthalmic migraine. It describes a “traditional” migraine that occurs with an aura — a temporary phenomenon that often takes the form of multicolored arc-shaped anomalies or jagged flashes of light. The aura occurs in both eyes and usually goes away within 30 minutes.

SEE RELATED: What causes a headache behind the eyes?

Ophthalmic artery

The ophthalmic artery is a blood vessel that supplies blood to the eyes, eye muscles, and other parts of the orbital region (in and around the bony area that surrounds each eye).

The ophthalmic artery is part of the carotid artery network that supplies blood to different parts of the face and head, including the brain.

During an ophthalmic artery occlusion, the blood vessel becomes partially or completely blocked. This is a medical emergency and can lead to severe vision loss if not treated promptly.

Ophthalmic ointment

In general, ophthalmic ointment is a thick, greasy substance — versus a liquid eye drop — placed directly on the eye or eyelid to treat a bacterial infection. It is often applied before bedtime, giving it time to melt along the surface of the eye without blurring or otherwise affecting a person’s vision.

One of the most common ophthalmic ointments is a triple antibiotic combination of neomycin, bacitracin and polymyxin, which can be used to treat certain infections of the eye and eyelid.

Less commonly, ophthalmic ointment can be used to treat:

  • A condition that causes inflammation of the eye

  • Discomfort resulting from severe forms of dry eye syndrome

  • Another short- or long-term eye condition

SEE RELATED: Different types of eye infection

Ophthalmic solution

Liquid eye drops can also be referred to as an ophthalmic solution, although the term is typically only used by pharmacists and medical professionals. Unlike an ointment, a liquid solution can usually be applied during the day with a minimal effect on vision.

Ophthalmic ofloxacin is a common example of an ophthalmic solution. It is used to treat bacterial eye infections, including bacterial conjunctivitis.

Lifitegrast (Xiidra) is a popular ophthalmic solution used to treat dry eye syndrome. By contrast, a dry eye treatment such as cyclosporine (Restasis) is an ophthalmic emulsion, a type of eye drop that combines oil and water to help the solution better adhere to the eye’s surface for a longer period of time. In some cases, an ophthalmic emulsion can even help the eyes naturally produce more tears.

READ MORE: Which eye drops are best for you?

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