Bagpipes health warning after player dies

Doctors have warned that bagpipes and other wind instruments should be cleaned regularly
Doctors have warned that bagpipes and other wind instruments should be cleaned regularly

Wind instrument players are being warned by doctors over possible lung damage after a bagpipe player is believed to have died from a reaction to mouldy pipes.

Doctors writing in the journal Thorax have said instruments should be cleaned regularly to avoid “bagpipe lung”.

Dr Jenny King, a member of the team at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester that treated the piper, told the BBC that if caught early, similar problems could be treated with a good prognosis.

The 61-year-old patient described in the journal practised every day and had been ill for a number of years.

Doctors realised the bagpipes might have been the cause of the problems when he travelled abroad for a few months without his instrument and his condition improved.

He is thought to have developed a bad reaction to mould and fungi that was found to have developed inside the moist interior of his bagpipes when they were checked in a lab.

Inhaling pathogens had caused inflammation and eventually led to irreversible scarring.

Dr King said: “Sadly, in his case, the damage was fatal.

“If you can diagnose these problems early and remove the trigger then they can be treated and the prognosis is really good.”

Musicians are urged to clean their instruments regularly and consider whether a cough or any breathlessness could be linked to their practice.

Comment: Andrew Cromie

For me bagpipes making the headlines is usually a positive thing, however this latest health risk story is something that has come as a bit of a surprise.

Each Saturday over the summer months we see hundreds of pipers – young and old – competing across the Province, I’m sure giving no thought whatsoever to a possible risk to their health.

Bagpipes have changed greatly over the years. The introduction of synthetic pipe bags and moisture control systems have helped deal with any potential for bacteria build-up.

Many synthetic bags can be opened and dried out, while traditional sheepskin bags can also be cleaned.

Regular maintenance of the instrument should remove any risk to the player.

Andrew Cromie writes on pipe bands for the News Letter