Bagpipe Lung Disease from Inhaling Mold and Fungi

61 year-old Player Died of Bagpipe Lung Disease

Report: Dr. Jenny King of the University Hospital of South Manchester in the United Kingdom reported on a 61 year-old man who died of an inflammatory lung condition that researchers called “bagpipe lung.” The report was published on-line on August 22, 2016, in the journal Thorax (10.1136/thoraxjnl-2016-208751).
Man at risk for bagpipe lung disease

Man Playing Bagpipes

In brief, this man had a 7-year history of a dry cough and shortness of breath leading to a major reduction in ability to perform activities. He was a life-long non-smoker, but played bagpipes daily as a hobby. During a hospital admission for worsening breathing, samples were taken from his bagpipes which grew numerous fungi. The man died from scarring of the lungs (interstitial fibrosis) which was thought due to repeated exposure to inhaling fungal spores from the bagpipe. The authors commented that the moist air in the bagpipes promoted yeast and mold to grow. Cases similar to bagpipe lung disease have been described in saxophone and trombone players. They emphasized that cleaning musical instruments immediately after use and allowing to drip-dry should reduce the risk of bacterial and fungal growth. My Comments: This report shows that it is important to be aware that wind instruments can be contaminated with yeasts and molds that can infect the lungs or cause lung inflammation/scarring. Certainly, anyone who has COPD needs to be careful about inhaling irritants in the air as well as bacteria and molds. Potential sources include exposure to droppings of  birds and pigeons, hot tubs, and areas of water damage. 

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.