A Brief Guide to Spanish in Ophthalmology

From EyeWiki


As the prevalence of Spanish speakers in the United States continues to grow, practicing ophthalmologists continue to frequently encounter patients who best, and sometimes only, communicate in Spanish. United States Census Bureau data demonstrates that from 2009 to 2017, the number of individuals who exclusively speak Spanish in the United States has increased by approximately six million [1]. Similarly, this data indicates a concomitant decrease in reported English proficiency by Spanish speakers during the same time interval [1][2]. In the Proyecto VER study, the ability to speak English was significantly associated with having obtained ophthalmologic surgery [3].

Furthermore, research has suggested that the Spanish-speaking population in the United States has an increased risk of low vision, open-angle glaucoma (OAG), ocular hypertension, diabetic retinopathy, severity of diabetic retinopathy, and macular edema when compared to non-Hispanic white Americans [4][5][6][7][8]. Likewise, an increased prevalence of pseudophakia and aphakia has been demonstrated in the Hispanic population when compared with non-Hispanic whites and has been projected to increase exponentially [9]. This may be the result of a patient who struggles to communicate with his/her doctor and a doctor whose best medical care delivery is hindered by the incapacity to speak the patient’s language proficiently [10].

A recent study showed a direct correlation with reported self-efficacy and preparedness to assess patients with the ability to speak Spanish in an underserved population [11].

In response to research demonstrating higher incidence of eye disease in Latinos, the American Academy of Ophthalmology developed OjosSanos, a Spanish-language version of the AAO EyeSmart® website. The site provides an excellent source for patient education and in-depth resources for Spanish speakers. Other resources are provided at the end of this article.


The goal of this article is not to teach basic Spanish, but to provide a supplementary lexicon specific to the general ophthalmologic patient encounter as well as to provide additional resources to assist in effective communication with a Spanish-speaking patient.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of terminology for all subspecialties of ophthalmology, but rather a list of terms most useful in general ophthalmology.

The dialect of Spanish presented in this article will aim to be universal. However, as Mexican Spanish is the most commonly spoken type in the United States [2], this article will have a tendency toward this variant.

Additionally, the focus here is patient-centered and thus focuses on the pragmatic, rather than technical terminology. In Spanish as in English, jargon can serve to cloud communication between patient and physician. As such, colloquial language will be employed when possible. This includes translations of common expressions and analogies utilized in English (e.g. cornea = “the windshield of the eye”).

This article is organized chronologically, from the beginning of the patient encounter to closure. At the end of this document, the “Other Useful Words and Phrases” section and its subsections serve as a repository for miscellaneous high-usage terms utilized in the general ophthalmology encounter. Ultimately, the user may search the document (e.g. Ctrl+F or Command+F) for a desired term.

The authors encourage the use of a licensed interpreter to mediate patient encounters that require it and the use of this article as a guide to better communicate with Spanish speakers in the ophthalmology clinic.

Beginning the Encounter

Do you have vision problems? = ¿Tiene problemas con su vista?

Is the vision problem in right, left, or both eyes?= ¿Su problema de visión es en el ojo derecho, izquierdo, o los dos?

How old is the prescription in your glasses?= ¿Qué tan vieja es la graduación de sus lentes?

Is your vision better, worse or the same than last visit?= ¿Es su vista mejor, peor o igual que la visita pasada?

Is your vision blurry, irregular, or double?= ¿Tiene visión borrosa, irregular, o doble?

Is your peripheral field normal?= ¿Tiene problemas con su visión periférica?

Do you have pain? = ¿Tiene dolor?

Do you have changes to your vision? = ¿Tiene cambios en la vista?

¿Does your vision improve with glasses?= ¿Su visión mejora con lentes?

Here? = ¿Aquí?

Do you have eye redness, itchiness, mucous or watery discharge? = ¿Tiene ojo rojo, comezón, descarga mucosa o lagrimeo?

Do you have floaters or flashes? = ¿Tiene manchas negras flotantes o destellos de luz? (Note: literally, manchas negras = black stains)

We saw each other last visit. = Nos vimos la cita pasada.

Photos = las fotos

Pressure = la presión

When is the next visit with the _____ doctor? = ¿Cuándo es la próxima visita con el/la doctor(a) de ___? (Note: See list below for specialties.)

Physical Examination

I am going to examine you. = Voy a examinarlo/a.

Follow my finger (without moving your head). = Siga mi dedo (sin mover la cabeza).

Read the smallest line. = Lea la línea más pequeña.

Can you see the letter? = ¿Puede ver la letra?

How many fingers are there? = ¿Cuántos dedos hay?

Can you see my mi mano? = ¿Puede ver mi mano?

Can you see the light? = ¿Puede ver la luz?

We are going to check. = Vamos a checar.

Take off your glasses. = Quítese los lentes.

We are going to put drops in your eyes. = Vamos a poner gotas en sus ojos.

I am going to numb the eye. = Voy a adormecerle el ojo.

We are going to dilate your eyes. = Vamos a dilatarle los ojos.

Open your eyes. = Abra los ojos.

Close your eyes. = Cierre los ojos.

Put your forehead here. = Ponga su frente aquí.

Put your chin here. = Ponga su barbilla aquí.

Look at my ear. = Mire mi oreja.

Look at the light. = Mire la luz.

You can blink. = Puede parpadear.

Don’t move. = No se mueva.

Blink (command). = Parpadée.

Look ___. (up, down, to the left, to the right, straight, forward) = Mire _____. (arriba, abajo, a la izquierda, a la derecha, derecho, al frente)

Sit back. (Command) = Siéntese hacia atrás.


Surgery = la cirugía

Which eye are we going treat/operate? (verification) = ¿Cúal ojo vamos a operar/tratar?

Suture/stitch = la puntada

Complication = la complicación

We will give you intravenous (IV) medication. = Vamos a ponerle medicina por la vena.


We are going to start. = Vamos a empezar.

Look at the light. = Mire la luz.

Don’t move. = No se mueva.

Relax. = Relájese.

You may feel pressure. = Puede sentir presión.

We are almost finished. = Casi terminamos.

We are finished. = Ya terminamos.

You did very well. = Usted estuvo muy bien.


How are you feeling this morning? = ¿Cómo amaneció? (Note: literally, “How did you wake up?”)

Have you had pain? = ¿Ha tenido dolor?

How is your vision? = ¿Cómo está su vista?

You (don’t) have inflammation in the eye. = Usted (no) tiene inflamación en el ojo.


Everything is good. = Todo está bien.

Everything is stable. = Todo está estable.

You need another drop (medicine). = Necesita otra gota (medicina).

We are going to start a new ______. (drop, pill) = Vamos a empezar una _____ nueva. (gota, pastilla)

Don’t take ____. = No tome ____.

You need surgery. = Necesita cirugía.

Use this _____ times per day. (number) = Use este ____ veces al día.

Return in ___ (a day, a week, a month). = Regrese en ____ (un día, una semana, un mes).

Let’s go to the front (for check out). = Vamos a la recepción.

We are going to schedule the next appointment (visit). = Vamos a programar la próxima cita (visita).

Appointment = la cita

To schedule = programar

Scheduled = programado

Schedule = el horario

Other Useful Words and Phrases

Anatomical Terminology

Eye = el ojo

Eyebrow = la ceja

Eyelid = el párpado

Eyelash = la pestaña

Lacrimal gland (“tear gland”) = la glándula lacrimal (“la glándula de lágrimas”)

Conjunctiva (“surface of the white part of the eye”) = la conjuntiva (“la superficie de la parte blanca del ojo”)

Sclera (“white part of the eye”) = la esclera (“la parte blanca del ojo”)

Cornea (“the windshield of the eye”) = la córnea (“el parabrisas del ojo”)

Front of the eye = el frente del ojo

Aqueous (“the liquid of the eye”) = humor acuoso (“el líquido del ojo”)

Pupil = la púpila

Iris = el iris

Lens = el lente

Ciliary body (“the thing that produces the liquid of the eye”) = el cuerpo ciliar (“la cosa que produce el líquido del ojo”)

Vitreous (“the jelly of the eye”) = el vítreo (“la gelatina del ojo”)

Retina (“the film of the camera”) = la retina (“la película del ojo”)

Blood vessels = los vasos sanguíneos

Nerve = el nervio

Optic Nerve (“the cable between the eye and brain”) = el nervio óptico (“el cable entre el ojo y el cerebro)

Eye muscles = los músculos del ojo


Up = Arriba

Down = Abajo

Left = La izquierda

Right = La derecha

Straight = Derecho

Forward = Adelante/al frente


You have ____. = Tiene _____.

Ptosis (“droopy eyelid”) = ptosis (“párpado caído”)

Eye inflammation = Inflamación del ojo

Corneal edema (“inflammation of the front of the eye”) = Edema corneal (“inflamación del frente del ojo”)

Cataracts = Cataratas

Glaucoma = Glaucoma

Retinal detachment = Desprendimiento de retina

Eye inflammation = Inflamación del ojo

Diabetic retinopathy (“diabetes in the eye”) = Retinopatía diabetica (“diabetes en el ojo”)

Dry Eye Syndrome = el síndrome de sequedad del ojo

Optic neuritis (“inflammation of the optic nerve”) = Neuritis óptica (“inflamación del nervio óptico”)

Top Colors

Red = rojo

Pink = rosa, rosado

Orange = anaranjado

Yellow = amarillo

Green = verde

Dark Green = verde oscuro

Turquoise = turquesa

Navy blue = azul marino

Purple = morado

Tan = café

Grey = gris

Black = negro


____ specialist. = Especialista de ____.

Glaucoma = Glaucoma

Retina = Retina

Cornea = Córnea

Pediatrics = Pediatría

Oculoplastics = Cirugía plástica del ojo

Neuro-ophthalmology = Neuro-oftalmología

Uveitis (“eye inflammation”) = Uveítis (“inflamación del ojo”)

Ocular Oncology (“eye cancer”) = Oncología ocular (“cáncer del ojo”)

Ocular Pathology = Patología del ojo

Primary doctor = el/la doctor(a) primario(a)


Ophthalmology = oftalmología

Vision = la vista/ la visión

Drops = las gotas

Eyeglasses = los lentes/las gafas

Sunglasses = los lentes de sol

Dark glasses = los lentes oscuros

The same = lo mismo

Exam = el examen

Pill = la pastilla

Prescription = la receta

Dryness = la sequedad

Top = la tapa

Scar = la cicatriz

Blood = la sangre

Blurry = borroso

Plug the drainage = tapar el drenaje

Artificial tears = las lágrimas artificiales

The other side = el otro lado

Cover the eye. = Cubra el ojo.


Flashcards of These Terms

Pronunciation Podcast of These Terms

From the "Straight From The Cutter's Mouth" Retina Podcast, the below link features Ophthalmologist and native speaker Manuel Paez-Escamilla, MD, FICO demonstrating the pronunciation of the terms from this EyeWiki article. He additionally provides other tips, including relevant Cuban colloquialisms.

Applications for Learning Spanish

Other Resources

  • OjosSanos, a Spanish-language version of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) EyeSmart® website.
  • WordReference.com
    • Note: the bottom of the page for each term includes links to forums with further discussion of the term, including regionalisms.
  • SayHi
    • This application is helpful for facilitating the translation of more complicated language. In addition to Spanish, many other languages are available. It is accessible on iOS and Google Play.

Further Reading

  • Patty L, Wu C, Torres M, Azen S, Varma R; Los Angeles Latino Eye Study Group. Validity of self-reported eye disease and treatment in a population-based study: the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 2012;119(9):1725–1730. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2012.02.029
  • Yonekawa Y, Varma R, Choudhury F, Torres M, Azen SP; Los Angeles Latino Eye Study Group. Risk factors for four-year incident visual impairment and blindness: the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 2011;118(9):1790–1797. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2011.02.002
  • Choudhury F, Varma R, McKean-Cowdin R, Klein R, Azen SP; Los Angeles Latino Eye Study Group. Risk factors for four-year incidence and progression of age-related macular degeneration: the los angeles latino eye study. Am J Ophthalmol. 2011;152(3):385–395. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2011.02.025
  • Mazhar K, Varma R, Choudhury F, et al. Severity of diabetic retinopathy and health-related quality of life: the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 2011;118(4):649–655. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2010.08.003
  • McKean-Cowdin R, Varma R, Hays RD, et al. Longitudinal changes in visual acuity and health-related quality of life: the Los Angeles Latino Eye study. Ophthalmology. 2010;117(10):1900–1907.e1. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2010.01.059
  • Kuzin AA, Varma R, Reddy HS, Torres M, Azen SP; Los Angeles Latino Eye Study Group. Ocular biometry and open-angle glaucoma: the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 2010;117(9):1713–1719. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2010.01.035


  1. 1.0 1.1 US Census Bureau: 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-year estimates. Language spoken at home by ability to speak English for the population 5 years and over (HIspanic or Latino). Table B16006. Generated 28 Sep 2019. https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_13_5YR_B16006&prodType=table.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ryan C. Language use in the United States: 2011. United States Census Bureau. 2013. https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/2013/acs/acs-22/acs-22.pdf
  3. Broman AT, Hafiz G, Muñoz B, Rodriguez J, Snyder R, Klein R, West SK. Cataract and barriers to cataract surgery in a US Hispanic population: Proyecto VER. Arch Ophthalmol. 2005 Sep;123(9):1231-6. doi: 10.1001/archopht.123.9.1231. PubMed PMID: 16157804.
  4. Congdon N, O'Colmain B, Klaver CC, Klein R, Muñoz B, Friedman DS, Kempen J, Taylor HR, Mitchell P. Causes and prevalence of visual impairment among adults in the United States. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004 Apr;122(4):477-85. doi: 10.1001/archopht.122.4.477. PubMed PMID: 15078664.
  5. The National Eye Institute. Facts About Diabetic Retinop­athy. Updated October 2009. Available at: http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy.asp. Accessed August 27,2019.
  6. Harris MI, Klein R, Cowie CC, Rowland M, Byrd-Holt DD. Is the risk of diabetic retinopathy greater in non-Hispanic blacks and Mexican Americans than in non-Hispanic whites with type 2 diabetes? A U.S. population study. Diabetes Care. 1998 Aug;21(8):1230-5. doi: 10.2337/diacare.21.8.1230. PubMed PMID: 9702425.
  7. Wong TY, Klein R, Islam FM, et al. Diabetic retinopathy in a multi-ethnic cohort in the United States. Am J Ophthalmol. 2006;141(3):446–455. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2005.08.063
  8. Varma R, Ying-Lai M, Francis BA, Nguyen BB, Deneen J, Wilson MR, Azen SP. Prevalence of open-angle glaucoma and ocular hypertension in Latinos: the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 2004 Aug;111(8):1439-48. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2004.01.025. PubMed PMID: 15288969.
  9. Congdon N, Vingerling JR, Klein BE, West S, Friedman DS, Kempen J, O'Colmain B, Wu SY, Taylor HR. Prevalence of cataract and pseudophakia/aphakia among adults in the United States. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004 Apr;122(4):487-94. doi: 10.1001/archopht.122.4.487. PubMed PMID: 15078665.
  10. Fernández A, Pérez-Stable EJ. ¿Doctor, habla español? Increasing the Supply and Quality of Language-Concordant Physicians for Spanish-Speaking Patients. J Gen Intern Med. 2015 Oct;30(10):1394-6. doi: 10.1007/s11606-015-3436-x. PubMed PMID: 26209178; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4579210.
  11. Weaver S, Hussaini Z, Valentin VL, Panahi S, Levitt SE, Ashby J, Kamimura A. Higher levels of self-efficacy and readiness for a future career of Spanish speaking physician assistant students after their volunteer work in a student-run free clinic in the United States. J Educ Eval Health Prof. 2019;16:27. doi: 10.3352/jeehp.2019.16.27. Epub 2019 Sep 6. PubMed PMID: 31487759.
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