Tag Archives: seeing

Take the Long View on Eye Health

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.

Maintain Focus

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.

Vision Protection: More Than Meets the Eye

There are plenty of obvious injuries that can result from repetitive music practice and playing. Carpal tunnel, tinnitus, and neck pain are just a few injuries musicians should look out for. One commonly overlooked problem area is the tool used to read music—the eyes.

Factors that put musicians’ eyes at risk for injury and strain include 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.

The eyes weren’t meant to repeatedly scan small text such as musical notes for an extended length of time. Doing so overworks the muscles in the eyes to the point where they begin to spasm and cause vision to blur. This is called eye strain and it can sometimes lead to ocular migraines

Prevention is the best way to curb eye strain. One simple way to relieve stress on your eyes is to blink or carry eye drops. When the cornea becomes dry, the eye begins to ache. Blinking lubricates them. If you wear contact lenses, you are more susceptible to dry eyes. Consider wearing your glasses to gigs or when you rehearse. Also, be mindful of having proper light and taking appropriate resting breaks when your eyes begin to fatigue.

Janet Horvath of Local 30-73 (St. Paul Minneapolis, MN), author of Playing Less Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide, and associate principal cellist for the Minnesota Orchestra, says a major cause of eye strain stems from the strenuous, uncomfortable positions musicians sit or stand in when playing in a group or with a music stand. Horvath suggests, when practicing at home or with a group or orchestra, make sure the room is brightly lit; that you aren’t too far away from the sheet music; and that you aren’t craning your neck to see the pages.

If you practice with a music stand, be sure to adjust it to eye level or slightly below and place it where you won’t have to turn your body or crane your neck to see the notes. Maintaining a neutral head and neck position is a key element to reducing the occurrence of eye strain. If you share a music stand with another musician and are used to craning your neck to one side, try switching places to create a better balance. “Studies show there is a higher rate of astigmatism in musicians,” says Horvath. “Some musicians often have to play in chronically asymmetrical positions and the amount of eye movement and head movement when tracking an object, like notes on a page, should be balanced.”

Those who wear corrective lenses should consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist on what types of product is most helpful for a particular performance situation. Horvath actually brought along her stand and a page of sheet music to her eye doctor appointment to illustrate the distance at which her eyes had to work when playing with the orchestra. “If you can take the instrument, that’s even better,” says Horvath. “The doctor wouldn’t know it’s quite a few feet away, it’s not book reading distance and not long driving distance.”

Horvath recommends progressive lenses for musicians in their 40s and 50s. These “allin- one” lenses pack every scenario, reading, driving, and watching TV, into one convenient pair and lack the lines that bifocals and trifocals have.

Since space issues are a common problem in orchestras, it’s important to make your conductor and orchestra aware of any discomfort or difficulty seeing the sheet music. Work with your stand partner to find the best placement of the music, where it is comfortable for both of you. Sometimes, simply turning a chair in a different angle is preferable and works better than twisting your pelvis, core, or neck to view the sheet music. “The most important thing is figuring out your head and neck angle and how you are tracking the music,” says Horvath. “This is essential to avoid injury to body, spine, and shoulders too.”