Musicians, there’s a new health warning you need to know about: If you play a brass instrument - like a saxophone, trumpet, or tuba – you’re at a higher risk for developing a lung condition known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis – or HP. That’s the conclusion of two new studies from the University of Connecticut and the University of Texas. Until recently, musicians with HP were a complete mystery to doctors. Many assumed it was caused by a rare allergic reaction to brass metal, because the symptoms are similar to people who have allergies. They include shortness of breath, coughing, and sometimes fever. What this new research has revealed is that HP is actually caused by mold and bacteria that builds up inside wind instruments, and is unknowingly inhaled when they’re played. When those particles get trapped inside airways, the lungs become inflamed and extremely sensitive. If HP is left untreated, it can develop into a more dangerous condition, like fibrosis.
Dr. Martin Blaser is chairman of medicine at New York University. He says your mouth is full of bacteria from saliva, which helps digest food. So, it makes sense that if you blow into an instrument, all that bacteria get blown into it. Brass instruments are especially dangerous, because they can’t be swabbed clean as easily as woodwind instruments. So they tend to invite more moisture, bacteria and mold. The good news is that, based on this research, it’s pretty easy for musicians to avoid HP. Here’s how:
- First: You must clean your instrument, EVERY DAY. One man found that after he immersed his trombone in a solution of isopropyl alcohol – which kills bacteria - his nagging cough vanished completely!
- Also: Practice in an air-conditioned room. HP tends to be diagnosed more often in hot, humid climates, where moisture can wreak havoc with brass instruments.
- Finally: Avoid tooting your horn after eating. That’s because there’s more bacteria in your mouth after chewing – even if you’re just chewing gum. So brush their teeth and use mouthwash before playing. That’ll kill the bacteria in your mouth, and lower your risk of HP.