Bagpipe Lung

A New Year brings with it a fresh start, and a resolution to keep instruments clean and hygienic.  If you need any further confirmation of the importance of keeping your instrument clean, please read on!…

Back in August 2016, the BBC and numerous other news agencies were reporting on a journal article written by doctors at Manchester’s Wythenshawe Hospital.  They described a rare but fatal case of what they described as “bagpipe lung” in a 61-year-old patient.  The deceased man is thought to have developed a bad reaction to mould and fungi lurking inside the moist interior of his bagpipes.

The patient had been struggling with respiratory problems over a number of years, during which time doctors had ruled out all possible environmental causes that they could think of.  On a hunch, the doctors sent away the pipes for testing only to reveal that the instrument was riddled with damp-loving mould and fungi – the types that the doctors know can cause serious lung problems.

Sadly, the damage that had already occurred to the man’s lungs was irreversible.  His condition deteriorated and he tragically died some weeks later.

There have also been a number of other documented cases of this in the UK with Saxophone, Trombone and Trumpet players.  Fortunately in these cases, the cause was identified early enough for the patients to recover.

So what steps do we need to take to prevent the build of yeast and other harmful pathogens in our trumpets?

Fortunately the answer to this is nowhere near as complicated as the problems faced by this patient or his doctors.  Regular cleaning.  Whether an instrument is being used regularly or not, the damp environment is a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of nasties.

Woodwind instruments where the instrument can be easily swabbed after every playing to remove moisture are pretty straightforward to keep in a hygienic state.  Brass on the other hand is not so easily attended on a daily basis, so it is important that we flush them out and clean them thoroughly when we do make the time.  I generally suggest to student that this is done monthly.

Taking the instrument apart and soaking it in a hot bath with a mild detergent is generally the best starting point to help to loosen dirt and grime.  I would then suggest both a brush pull-though and then a sponge pull-through to drag out the offending matter!  Finally a rinse through with hot (but not boiling) water should leave your trumpet clean.

I have found some really good quality pull-throughs etc for this purpose, links to a few are listed below this article. Details of all of these as well as many others are available from my friends at Thompson Music.

You may also be interested in a few of these simple products that I have found that can be useful for keeping your instrument free of grime on a daily/weekly basis, meaning that you can perhaps do the “full flush” slightly less frequently.

Spitballs from Herco have been around for years, seemed to fall out of favour, and have now made a big comeback.  These are specially treated pieces of moist foam that are blown right through the instrument.  On their own, they will not take the place of a thorough flush, but used regularly reduce the need for frequent full cleans.  These are really popular with trumpet players, although not so popular with anyone who is on the receiving end of one exiting a trumpet bell at speed!

There has been a huge drive towards using natural and/or non-toxic ingredients in oils and cleaning materials recently.  One interesting company that I have come across are B Sharp Brass.  Their Virtuoso Cleaning Kit includes a really good instrument soak that you dilute to clean your instrument – the residue from this also helps to prevent build up in the instrument too.

There are loads of good brush pull-throughs around, too many to list here, but I generally favour ones without too much bare wire to scratch the inside of the instrument.  In addition to these, I like the following kit from Reka which has perfectly sized spheres on the end of the cleaning cord and bars, perfect for dragging out any last bits of dirt.

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