Respiratory conditions Arts/entertainment/recreational

Doctors warn wind-instrument players about ‘bagpipe lung’


Photo: seanfboggs/iStockphoto

Wythenshawe, England – Musicians, take note: Cleaning wind instruments immediately after use and allowing them to dry may lower the risk of developing a respiratory condition doctors have nicknamed “bagpipe lung.”

The recommendation follows the death of a longtime piper whose postmortem examination showed extensive lung damage and scar tissue. The man sought treatment in 2014 after experiencing a dry cough and worsening breathlessness over a seven-year span. Doctors writing in the journal Thorax said the man played the bagpipes daily, and they noted that his condition improved during a three-month period in which he traveled abroad without his instrument. Despite receiving treatment, the man died at 61.

The man was diagnosed in 2009 with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, but doctors ruled out common causes of the condition – including smoking, exposure to birds, and residential mold and water damage. Tests on several areas inside his bagpipes, however, showed evidence of hazardous yeasts and molds.

“This is the first case report identifying fungal exposure, from a bagpipe player, as a potential trigger for the development of [hypersensitivity pneumonitis],” the authors wrote. “The clinical history of daily bagpipe playing, coupled with marked symptomatic improvement when this exposure was removed, and the identification of multiple potential precipitating antigens isolated from the bagpipes, make this the likely cause.”

Other wind instruments are similarly susceptible to harboring fungi, and the authors note that cases of hypersensitivity pneumonitis have been diagnosed among saxophone and trombone players. Cleaning instruments could reduce the hazard, they said.

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