Playing the bagpipes could kill you, scientists warn

© Toby Melville
Scientists say playing the bagpipes could be deadly after a man died from “bagpipe lung” caused by regularly breathing in mold and fungus trapped in the instrument.

Doctors in Manchester identified the condition following the recent death of a 61-year-old man, who died from chronic inflammatory lung condition hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

The condition, which meant the unnamed man experienced breathlessness and eventually could not walk more than 20 yards, caused irreversible scarring to his lungs.

When the man was first diagnosed in 2009, doctors could not work out the cause of his condition because his house contained no mold and he had never smoked.

But when he went to Australia for three months without his bagpipes and his condition improved, doctors tested his instrument.

Samples were taken from several areas, including the bag, the neck and the chanter reed protector, and were found to contain six types of mold and fungi.

Despite treatment, the man died and a post-mortem examination revealed extensive lung damage and lung tissue scarring.

Writing in the medical journal Thorax, experts warn instruments should be cleaned regularly to reduce the chances of developing the condition.

“This is the first case report identifying fungal exposure, from a bagpipe player, as a potential trigger for the development of hypersensitivity pneumonitis,” said Dr Jenny King of Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester.

“Many of the isolated fungi in this case have previously been implicated in the development of hypersensitivity pneumonitis,” she told the Telegraph.

“The moist environment of bagpipes promotes yeast and mold contamination, thereby making the chronic inhalation of offending antigens a likely trigger.

“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.”