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Here’s How Playing The Bagpipes Can Kill You


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Is this the first time you have read that Bagpipes can kill? Don’t worry, so have we. An unusual case study was recently published by scientists University Hospital South Manchester, England.

The study appeared in the journal Thorax. The study showed that wind instruments like Bagpipes etc. can possibly be the primary breeding grounds for fungi and moulds. Musicians regularly breathe in these musical instruments and can develop inflamed lungs in most cases, or even fatal lung diseases in some cases. Dubbed as  “bagpipe lung,” based on the case study of a bagpipe player, other wind instruments are also exposed to the same risk.

Credits: Aberdeen Highland Games

Man’s condition improved when he did not play The Bagpipe for three months. Credits: Aberdeen Highland Games

We are all familiar with that vexing, persistent cough we get after we catch flu or cold. Now imagine that cough lingering for seven long years. The case study is about a 61-year-old man who experienced just that. He had hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) – which is basically the chronic inflammation of lungs caused by inhalation of fungi, mould, dust or chemicals and can eventually lead to chronic lung disease.


It is usually hard to figure out the contributing factor for the HP disease. The patient under study had none of the usual indicators: no mould in the house, no exposure to pigeons or other birds, non-smoker nor did he work with any chemicals. But there was one thing he did everyday i.e. play his bagpipes despite a nagging cough and inflamed lungs. Interestingly, the one time his condition improved was when he left his bagpipes home and went on a trip to Australia for 3 months.

CT scan of inflamed lungs of a patient suffering form HP. Credits: M. Funke, J-M. Fellrath/European Respiratory Journal.

CT scan of inflamed lungs of a patient suffering from HP. Credits: M. Funke, J-M. Fellrath/European Respiratory Journal.

The samples were collected from the reed protector, neck and back of the device and laid in the petri dish. Later examination showed different species of fungi blooming in the dish. It was concluded that yeast, moulds and other fungi propagate quite well in the moist environment of the bagpipes. The patient had unknowingly, been breathing into fungi every day and this persistently triggered his HP.

Unfortunately, the man did not survive and dies of HP. There are other, non-fatal cases of HP as well in musicians who play the trumpet and the saxophone. We still don’t know what is the best and safest way to clean wind instruments but the paper suggests that the instruments should be regularly swabbed with disinfectant which will inhibit the growth of microbes.

Credits: Shutterstock

Credits: Shutterstock

This is an unusual but very important study outlining the health risk faced by musicians. Perhaps the next HP patient who plays a wind instrument, would not have to wait 7 long years to find his trigger. Let us know what you think of Bagpipe lung! Do you play any wind instrument?


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