If you haven’t heard the term “millennial” before, here’s a quick definition: millennials are members of the millennial generation, a group of people born between the years of 1980 and 2000.
As you might guess from the above age range, millennials tend to be pretty young, ranging from their mid-teens to their early 30s. An awful lot of space has been spent analyzing the traits of millennials, and you’ll find some conflicting information. To some, they’re lazy, entitled, and narcissistic – to others (and millennials themselves), they’re a hard-charging generation forced to adapt to a somewhat unfriendly world.
We’re not really here to talk about either of those camps; we’re more interested in millennials’ eyes.
Whatever their other pluses and minuses may be, millennials do fall short in a key category: visual health. Despite being such a young generation, they’re already encountering large numbers of eye problems that we wouldn’t normally expect at their average age.
The real question is, why?
Millennials Have Gone Digital
One of the undisputed hallmarks of the millennial generation is their incredible attachment to digital devices. Even older millennials – those born in the 80s – have become used to thinking of the internet as a major part of their life. This isn’t exactly surprising. After all, given that internet usage became widespread in the latter half of the 90s, they’ve spent the majority of their life fully wired up to computers and, more recently, smartphones and tablets.
This comfort with, and reliance on, technology differentiates millennials from previous generations. At the moment, only Digital Natives – children born after the advent of widely used personal computers and smartphones – can claim more familiarity with tech.
It’s a trait that has enabled the rise of hundreds of millennial innovators. Huge businesses with young founders have improved the everyday lives of millions of people, and millennials, with their smartphones in hand, are perfectly poised to reap the rewards of their creativity.
However, tech has also come back to bite this generation.
Computer Vision and Other Issues
A recent report from The Vision Council, a massive organization representing providers of vision care products and services, claimed that nearly 70 percent of all millennials surveyed during a study reported some symptoms of eye strain.
The 68 percent of millennial eye strain reporters significantly topped the 63 percent of Gen X’ers (those born between 1965 and 1980) who suffered from the problem. This despite the fact that the relative youth of millennials at least theoretically provides them some extra protection against most visual disorders.
For those who suffer from it, eye strain is no joke. A common, but extraordinarily disruptive problem, eye strain can cause severe eye discomfort, blurriness, and even headaches. People with an unaddressed case of eye strain can even find it taking a toll on the muscles around the neck and back as they often contort themselves into damaging positions in response to eye discomfort.
The most common cause of the complaint is, at present, extended periods of time spent using a computer. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, simply working on near field tasks for too long forces eyes to work overtime to focus on whatever you’re working with. If left too long, the tiny muscles responsible for this action tire and strain, leading to discomfort.
The reduced blink rate seen on computer workers also contributes to the issue. Digital device users tend to adopt a frozen stare while concentrating on their screens. The lowered blink rate that comes along with it makes eyes especially prone to drying out. Deprived of their natural lubrication, dry eyes tend to be scratchy and irritated. Even worse, they encourage rubbing, which can increase a person’s chance of contracting an eye infection or even physically wearing away the cornea.
Glare can also be an issue. Many modern offices rely on excessive fluorescent lighting, which can cast glare off of a computer screen. Over time, this can irritate eyes forced to work with it, and work towards causing a nasty case of eye strain.
The digital habits of millennials are commonly cited as the main reason for their increased risk of this particular visual disorder. Looking at the actual average device usage of the generation, it’s not especially hard to see why. Millennials spend a lot of time on their computers. Small wonder – it’s common for these younger, tech-savvy individuals to hold jobs as computer workers. Additionally, millennials are more apt to rely on tech to provide entertainment, news, and even social updates from friends.
Put that all together, and you’ll find that nearly four in 10 millennials spend an average of nine hours using digital devices every day. In contrast, less than three out of every ten Gen X’ers hits that nine hour mark, and only around 25 percent of the older Baby Boomer generation does.
Those extended periods of time spent in digital devices are absolutely miserable for millennial eyes. Even more concerning, there’s some evidence that increased exposure to the blue light emitted from most digital screens can have some long-term impact on the retinal cells responsible for vision. Millennials are far from visually doomed, but it’s not hard to imagine this generation facing even greater eye health hardships in the future.
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At the moment, the generation of digital natives born after the millennials have yet to approach their average use of digital devices, but this is largely because most are extremely young. The oldest digital native are only just starting to enter adulthood, meaning that most have their digital time curtailed by school or parents. Still, educating younger generations on healthier computer habits will be a crucial part of safeguarding their growing eyes.
As for millennials, cutting back isn’t always an option. As mentioned, many can easily put in several hours of computer use as office professionals, let alone natural consumers of digital media and information.
You need to take frequent breaks. Doing so gives your eyes a way to relax from long periods of close work, preventing the muscular lock-up that normally comes along with it. Also, what you’re eating plays a big part in vision care. Try to incorporate vision-healthy vitamins and nutrients into your diet.