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Trumpeters May Damage the Eyes While Reaching for the High Notes

October 11, 1995

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ The clear, ringing notes of a trumpet soaring over the orchestra might make the heart swell, but they could also be damaging the eyes of the musicians who labor to produce them.

Brass musicians generate sharp increases in eye pressure while reaching for high notes, putting them at possible risk of developing glaucoma and ultimately blindness, a researcher reports.

``The important thing is to have them come to the doctor’s office with their horns and measure their eye pressure,″ said Dr. Theodore Krupin, an ophthalmologist at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.

His study was released Wednesday at a seminar sponsored by Research to Prevent Blindness, a voluntary organization that supports eye research.

Glaucoma is one of the commonest causes of blindness. It is often associated with increased pressure in the eye, which damages the end of the optic nerve where it is attached to the back of the eye.

Pressure in the eye increases when musicians strain to force air through their horns, just as it does in the eyes of anyone who strains to lift a heavy object.

Brief strains are not thought to be harmful to the eyes. The problem is more serious with professional musicians, however, because many practice four to six hours a day.

Krupin has tested 30 musicians while they played their instruments in his office. The eye pressure rise was most pronounced in musicians who played trumpet and French horn, and some effect was also seen in oboists, Krupin said. The effect was far less pronounced in saxophone players.

``I think the research is very interesting,″ said Dr. Peter Netland, an ophthalmologist at Harvard Medical School. ``That type of behavior may be associated with worsening of glaucoma if you have some tendency toward it,″ or it could cause the disease in someone who otherwise wouldn’t be affected.″

Another recent study suggested that brass playing could also produce a rise in blood pressure, Krupin said.

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