Do you have square eyes?“You’ll get square eyes” My Mum would shout, whenever I was late for a meal. Growing up in the late 70s, early 80s, I was one of the first generations of gamers. I spent long periods of time playing space invaders and my personal favourite, Brian Bloodaxe. Many hours were spent learning code and inputting it on to my pride and joy, the ZX Spectrum. I would spend hours in front of the screen often losing track of time. 40 years on and I still spend up to 12 hours in front of a computer screen. Oh and I’ve still not developed square eyes. However, like many of us VDU users, they do occasionally feel tired. With many more people working from home during lockdown we are seeing an increase in clients complaining of eye strain symptoms. After or during a long day of working at a computer, many of us experience some or all of the following problems;
- sore, tired or burning eyes
- watery, itchy or dry eyes
- blurred, or double vision
Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.For every 20 minutes spent using a screen, try to look away at something that is 20 feet away for a total of 20 seconds. Unless you have a tape measure to hand it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to accurately measure 20 feet. Luckily an exact measurement isn’t essential. Just try to focus on something far away. Look out of a window at a distant object, like a tree or a building across the street. Sometimes, the easiest way to change the depth of your focus, is to leave your computer or device for a moment and take a short walk. Maybe get a glass of water or just stand up for 20 seconds and have a stretch. The point is: just get moving! By moving around we can reduce eye strain. It helps to keep us active during an otherwise sedentary period, increasing alertness and leading to higher productivity.
#SeeTheMusicMany musicians who visit us complain that not only is seeing the music a challenge. Often they are experiencing similar symptoms to VDU users when rehearsing or performing. This isn’t surprising, as musicians we fixate on our music on the stand for long periods of time. Just like a digital device user, we stare at our music and we tend to blink less while playing. Musicians in particular often struggle due to their dusty environment. Those who wear contact lenses are particularly prone to dry eyes. Especially if seated close to air conditioning ducts in an orchestra pit. Eye problems are a commonly overlooked health issue for musicians. The effort our 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.
Dry eye and blurred visionOur musical clients often complain of eyestrain related symptoms. The cause is very similar to that which leads to the very same diagnosis in computer users. Our eyes didn’t evolve to repetitively scan a music score or computer screen at a distance of 60-95cm for long periods of time. Continuous fixation and repetitive scanning can lead to a condition known as “spasms of accommodation.” When our eyes are overworked our ocular muscles can go into spasm and can no longer adjust when we look at something far away. In the musicians’ case, when we look up at the conductor. Everything distant becomes blurry as the muscles tire and lose the ability to focus. Fortunately, these symptoms can be eased with a helpful trick known as the 20-20-20 rule:
- 20-20-20 rule. Just like VDU users we recommend that musicians should try to look away at something that is 20 feet away for a total of 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
- Lubricate your eyes. A handy and easy trick to avoid dry eye problems is very simple: blink! When concentrating on a piece of music during a rehearsal or performance musicians often forget to blink. The result is that the cornea dries out and the eyes can start to ache. Musicians who wear contact lenses are particularly prone to dry eyes, especially if their seat is close to an air conditioning unit. We would advise using a good lubricant of artificial tears but always check with your optician that the lubricant is compatible with your contact lenses first.
- Adjust your music stand correctly. The top of your sheet music should ideally be at or just below your eye level to avoid any straining or neck problems. If your stand must be below eye level, try to lower your eyes rather than tilt your head as this can lead to postural problems which can, in turn, affect your sound.
- Find an optician who understands . As opticians who specialise in musicians eye care, we know that a musician’s eyes are as important as his or her instrument and hands. If you think you have work-related or performance-related eye problems, find an optician who is sensitive to this issue or who has proven experience working with other musicians. Always insist on taking your instrument, music, music stand and clip light to a consultation. This will help the optometrist and dispensing optician can properly understand your working conditions and individual needs. Always insist that your glasses are dispensed by a registered dispensing optician as unlike the optometrists who understand how your eyes work a dispensing optician is a lens expert with extensive expertise in lens design.