Musicians are susceptible to any number of performance-related injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome and joint pain. But, let’s face it, the eyes and ears do the heavy lifting in performance. As a focus of health and wellness, vision is often taken for granted.
Focusing on small notes on a page for long periods of time, frequent reading with inadequate light, dry eyes, and playing loud and high-pitched notes on wind instruments—which can double eye pressure—all put a musician’s eyes at risk for strain and injury. The eyes are not meant to repeatedly scan small text, like musical notes, for an extended period of time. Doing so overworks the eye muscles to the point where they can spasm, causing vision to blur. Eye strain can sometimes lead to ocular migraines.
A simple way to relieve stress and to lubricate the eyes is to blink. On average, most people blink 15-20 times per minute. Blinking cleanses the eyes and keeps them moist and oxygenated. If you are prone to dry eyes, especially if you wear contact lenses, eyedrops add a layer of protection.
When you look up and try to refocus, everything at a distance is blurry because the muscles have temporarily lost the ability to focus. An easy way to relax your eye muscles throughout the day is to practice the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes of digital screen use or rehearsing look at an object about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
If You Wear Contact Lenses
Wearing contact lenses can make vision sharper, but improper use can lead to potentially serious problems. Over time, contact lens wearers develop micro-abrasions on the surface of the eye that predispose them to infections. Over wearing lenses can cause inflammation of the cornea, known as keratitis, or giant papillary conjunctivitis, under the eyelid.
There are no blood vessels in the cornea, which is one of the reasons it’s clear. Contact lenses prevent the cornea from getting oxygen. The cornea is resilient and can typically heal from minor abrasions, but major corneal damage can result in a corneal scar. If this occurs, clear corneal tissue may be replaced by scar tissue or become occluded by new blood vessels (a problem called neovascularization). These corneal scars can impair vision. To avoid infection and corneal damage, first be sure you are properly fitted with the right lenses. Second and most important, limit wear time to eight to 10 hours per day. Consider wearing your glasses to gigs or when you rehearse.
One common cause of eye strain in musicians is the strenuous, uncomfortable positions musicians sometimes sit or stand in when playing. When practicing at home or rehearsing with the band or orchestra, make sure the room is well lit. Be sure the sheet music is placed so that you are not craning your neck to read the music.
Our eyes are designed to look downward when reading or doing closeup work. Looking straight ahead at a focal point, or worse, upward or sideways, will cause additional strain on the eye muscles.
If you practice with a music stand, adjust it to slightly below eye level and place it where you can comfortably see the notes, without contorting your neck and body. Maintaining a neutral head and neck position is key to reducing the occurrence of eye strain. If you share a music stand and tend to crane your neck, try switching places to create a better balance.
Get Regular Eye Examinations
Make an annual visit to your ophthalmologist to keep tabs on your eye health and to update prescriptions. For a more accurate assessment, take sheet music to your eye appointment to illustrate the exact distance of reading material.
According to recent data, if you are between 30 and 40 years old, there’s about a 42% chance that you need some sort of vision correction. The eye specialist may recommend an anti-reflective coating on your lenses, which will reduce the glare from digital devices. If you have sensitivity to light, ask about a blue light filter or a light amber tint.
Seeing Straight: Get the Facts
Myth: Reading in dim light will worsen your vision.
Fact: Dim lighting will not damage your eyesight or eye health, but it will tire your eyes more quickly. The best way to position a reading light is to have it shine directly onto the page, not over your shoulder. A desk lamp with an opaque shade pointing directly at the reading material is ideal.
Myth: Carrots are the best food for eye health.
Fact: Carrots contain vitamin A and are indeed good for the eyes. But fresh fruits and dark, green leafy vegetables, which contain more antioxidant vitamins such as C and E, are even better for eye health. Antioxidants may even help protect the eyes against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Just don’t expect them to prevent or correct basic vision problems such as nearsightedness or farsightedness.
Myth: It’s best not to wear glasses or contact lenses all the time. Taking a break from them allows your eyes to rest.
Fact: If you need corrective lenses, use them. Not wearing your glasses will strain your eyes and cause fatigue. You should, however, take a break from wearing your contact lenses, for instance, in the evenings or during rehearsals. Glasses should not be discarded because of the use of contacts.
Myth: Staring at a computer screen all day is bad for the eyes.
Fact: Using a computer does not damage your eye health. Staring at a computer screen all day can contribute to eyestrain or tired eyes. People who stare at a computer screen for long periods tend not to blink as often as usual, which can cause the eyes to feel dry and uncomfortable. To help prevent eyestrain, adjust the lighting so there is no glare or harsh reflection on the screen. Rest your eyes every 20 minutes. Look up at a distant object or outside. Blink regularly so that your eyes stay well lubricated.