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April 28, 2015IM -
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is a result of research conducted across a number of health-related Web sites. The AFM does not endorse any specific remedy for eye problems and urges members to consult a medical practitioner before deciding on a course of action.
Eye problems are an often-overlooked health issue for professional musicians. The effort eyes make to read sheet music or follow the conductor while peering around an instrument can lead to a number of common, but treatable, complaints.
Unfortunately, opticians aren’t always sensitive to the specific concerns musicians have with their eyes. For instance, a one-size-fits-all approach to correcting vision may not work when there are so many different tasks eyes perform in an average day. A musician who logs off the computer, drives to work, performs for an evening, then goes home to watch the “Late Show with David Letterman” on TV, before reading in bed, ideally might need different glasses for each task. Fortunately, opticians who are used to treating increasingly widespread computer-related eye disorders suggest their advice can also help working musicians.
A typical complaint of professional musicians is eyestrain. Its cause is similar to that which leads to the same diagnosis in computer users. The eyes just aren’t meant to repetitively scan the small text of a music score or computer screen at a distance of two or three feet for long periods of time. Close focusing and repetitive scanning can even lead to a condition called “spasms of accommodation.” This is when the eyes’ overworked muscles spasm and are no longer able to adjust when a musician looks at something far away. Everything distant becomes blurry because the muscles have lost the ability to focus. Another more serious consequence of eyestrain is ocular migraine, a condition believed to be caused by a spasm of blood vessels brought on by eyestrain and which leads to visual disturbances. Opticians consider eyestrain a form of repetitive stress injury, which takes time to develop and a long time to treat.
Two other eye problems that commonly affect musicians were identified in a study conducted by Dr. Paul Alan Harris and published in a 1988 edition of The Journal of the American Optometric Association. Harris studied orchestra members in situ and found that peculiar working conditions led to diagnoses of astigmatism (abnormal curvature of the lens) and anisometropia (a large difference between the refractive power of the two eyes). Specifically, different vision problems arose depending on which instrument was played and where a musician sat. For instance, Harris found that a bass clarinetist, who habitually tilted his head back to play and looked left to view sheet music and conductor, had a significantly astigmatic right eye.
Whether you wear corrective lenses or not, there are several actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of eye trouble: