Having 20/20 Vision for Prevention Instead of Seeing It in Hindsight: Ways Millennials Can Make Eye Health a Priority

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By: Melissa Schenkman, MPH, MSJ

For more than a decade, all of my eye doctor visits in my 20s and now 30s have had one thing in common: I’m always the youngest person in the waiting room. And I’m not talking by a few years; try a few decades. But that shouldn’t be the case.

Millennials are just as susceptible to having eye problems as anyone else and not taking the time to even get an eye exam when we are not having a problem, leaves us missing out on an opportunity to do something greater and considered very millennial: prevention and health maintenance.  

In recognition of Healthy Vision Month, I asked Dr. Heather Weissman, a board-certified ophthalmologist and a member of Generation Y in her 30s to share with us her perspective on why eye health matters even as a young and healthy millennial.

Heather Weissman, MD, has been practicing ophthalmology for four years and is based in Atlanta. She completed her cornea fellowship at Baylor University in 2016.

She describes the most common eye condition facing millennials today, ways we can preserve our eye health, and why we should make the time to do so. Plus, she shares insights on the potential role of our eyes in COVID-19 and what we can do proactively to minimize our risk of getting the virus.

YMyHealth:  What are some of the common eye conditions or symptoms that millennials typically come into the office to see you for?

Dr. Weissman: By far the most common eye condition I see in millennials is dry eye. It affects millennials more than the generations of adults older than us because of our screen use.  

We are very much a technology-driven society and with that comes increased screen time. 

YMyHealth:  How often should millennials have their eyes checked?

Dr. Weissman:  We usually recommend an eye exam every 2-3 years for patients younger than 40, if there are no underlying eye conditions. If the patient wears glasses or contact lenses, we recommend a yearly eye exam.

YMyHealth: What are your recommendations for millennials in their 20s versus their 30s (or for both) when it comes to eye care?

Dr. Weissman:  It’s important to make sure you have a baseline eye exam in your 20s. However, there really is no difference in recommendations between 20 and 30-year olds. After age 40, you start to lose near vision and may require reading glasses.

YMyHealth: Millennials spend a lot of time using digital devices for work and in their personal lives. How do you believe this is affecting the health of their eyes and what potential long-term effects do you believe this could have on our generation?  

Dr. Weissman: The biggest issue with screen use is dry eye from reduced blinking. It’s important to take breaks from screen time. I usually recommend the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away. This rule in addition to using artificial tears can help limit eyestrain associated with computer use. 

I also recommend sitting 25 inches from the screen and adjusting the height so you’re looking slightly downward. Lastly, I recommend turning down the brightness and using a matte screen filter to minimize glare. 

YMyHealth: In the past year or so, in some eye glass stores there has been a marketing push for glasses that filter out blue light when using digital devices. Do you think this is a worthwhile investment for millennials to make? Why or why not?

Dr. Weissman: I don’t believe it is necessary to spend money on blue light blocking glasses. There is not enough data to show that these glasses make a difference in eyestrain at the computer. I recommend the 20/20/20 rule as mentioned above.   

YMyHealth: Why should millennials make their eye health a priority? 

Dr. Weissman: It’s important to make your eyes a priority and to get a baseline eye exam in your 20s.  There are a few hereditary eye conditions that lead to blindness.  If detected early, permanent vision loss can be avoided.  

YMyHealth:  Recently, there has been some media coverage, mentioning eye problems that are potentially related to COVID-19 or that could be a sign of infection with the virus. What eye-related symptoms should patients look out for? And is there anything that millennials can or should do to protect their eyes from COVID-19?

Dr. Weissman: As with any respiratory virus, COVID-19 viral particles spread through mucous membranes located in the mouth, nose and eyes. When a person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can enter through these mucous membranes and make their way to the respiratory tract. You can also become infected with the virus if you touch a contaminated doorknob or counter surface and then touch your eyes.  

Contact lens wearers should consider wearing glasses during the COVID-19 pandemic. If contact lenses must be worn, good hand washing before and after use is very important to avoid viral transmission. 

In a recent New England Journal of Medicine article, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 reported were fever (43.8%) and cough (67.8%). Conjunctivitis, inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye, was reported in only 0.8%. Viral conjunctivitis presents as red eyes with a watery discharge.  It is important to contact your eye doctor if you have these symptoms. He or she may want to evaluate you via telemedicine to determine your risk for COVID-19. 

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