The Effect of Playing Wind Instruments on Eye Pressure

By Liam Shah and Ella Shah
Elementary Category (Grades 4-6)
Experiment | Biology

BCVSF Note: The required ethics forms have been submitted for this project.

We investigated the effect of playing wind instruments on eye pressure. We chose this subject because one of us is at high risk of glaucoma and has needed regular eye pressure monitoring since age two. We also have several family members who are at high risk of glaucoma. When we tried to choose an instrument for band, we found it hard because we needed information about the effect on eye pressure of playing each instrument. When we looked for studies on this topic, we found out that all the participants in the studies were professional musicians. Several published studies found that playing a high-resistance wind instrument can increase the chance of visual field loss and glaucomatous eye damage. We chose to do our study on amateur musicians because this may help students who are choosing a musical instrument in band and are at risk of glaucoma or have glaucoma.

Research Question:
Can playing a wind instrument increase your eye pressure?

We used an iCare Pro eye pressure monitor that our family owns to measure baseline eye pressure of participants. We then had participants play an instrument for 30 seconds as loudly as possible. We measured participants’ eye pressures while they were playing the instruments. Participants rested for two minutes between trials and did three trials for each instrument that they played. The independent variable was the instrument being played. The dependent variable was the eye pressure level. The controlled variables were the resting time between each trial on the instruments, the time each instrument was played, and the position participants were sitting in while playing the instruments. Participants acted as their own control group by playing the bass, which is not a wind instrument and thus should not have any effect on eye pressure.

We calculated the mean change in eye pressure of different instruments versus the control, which was the bass. For the trumpet, 9 out of the 10 participants’ eye pressures increased. We used an online program (GraphPad) to run a paired t-test for the bass and trumpet groups because we had a sample size of 10 for each group. The difference between these 2 groups was very statistically significant because the P value was 0.0055. The data fits our hypothesis that blowing into a wind instrument like the trumpet, which creates high air resistance, would raise the majority of participants’ eye pressures.

We did not have time for each participant to play each instrument because the process of testing everyone and calculating the mean eye pressure change took much longer than we thought it would. We let participants choose which instruments they wanted to play and had time to play. We asked that everyone play the bass first as a control, and then the trumpet because our hypothesis stated that playing the trumpet would raise participants’ eye pressures the most.

Our hypothesis was partially correct. The instruments that create the most air resistance such as the trumpet tended to raise eye pressures the most. We were surprised that playing the recorder increased the eye pressures of 4 out of 6 participants. In some trials, the participants’ eye pressures actually decreased after playing a wind instrument, which we did not expect. The increase in eye pressures while playing the trumpet likely happened because the blowing pressure the participants needed to create in order to play caused their eye pressures to rise due to compressing the blood vessels in their heads.

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