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Improperly Cleaned Brass and Wind Instruments Can Cause Lung Illness


Football isn’t the only thing that that has the potential to cause illness for students this fall. Those in the marching band should also be aware that improper cleaning of their brass and wind instruments could lead to a condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or “Trombone Player’s Lung”.

Lung Inflammation Can Worsen Into Fibrosis if Not Treated

NPR writes about Connecticut musician Scott Bean who spends hours each day teaching and performing on his trombone. For years, he struggled with health problems, such as a deep, barking cough, sore throat, low-grade fever, and significant weight loss. After being stumped on the cause, a doctor at the University of Connecticut finally turned his attention to the instrument.

Professor Mark Metersky of the UC Medical School’s division of pulmonary and critical care found a mold called fusarium and a bacteria called mycobacterium, a “cousin of tuberculosis.” Every time Bean inhaled, microscopic organisms were breaking off and entering the lung. These contaminants were causing an allergic reaction that led to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or a severe inflammation of the lungs.

Read: Katrina, Mold and Children with Asthma

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In addition to mold, other causes of hypersensitivity pneumonitis include airborne particles such as asbestos or silica, some drugs (particularly chemotherapy drugs), radiation therapy to the chest, and exposure to poultry, pigeons or pet birds. Without treatment, the condition can lead to a more dangerous fibrosis of the lungs.

Dr. Metersky went on to test the insides of other professional musicians’ instruments. After 10, he stopped because all were contaminated. “It was disgusting,” he said, “Imagine the worst thing you’ve found in your refrigerator…and that was coming out of these instruments.”

Read: Music Training Boosts Learning and Communication Skills

The doc stresses that mold and bacteria can grow in any brass or wind instrument if not properly cleaned. Performers are encouraged to clean the instrument, including the mouthpiece, every day and also rinse out their mouths before beginning play. Washing hands is also important, as germs can enter the instrument through cross-contamination. Using a rod with a cloth or immersing the instrument in 91% isopropyl alcohol can kill the germs inside, says Bean.

The findings from Dr. Metersky’s pilot study are published in this month’s issue of the journal Chest.



I think every band hall should post a copy of this article. In my band hall I keep a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and bottles of listerine available to students. The spray is for mouthpieces of both woodwinds and brass and the mouthwash is to be poured via funnel to be flushed through the instrument by blowing with all valves held down to ensure that all slides are flushed. Of course this is no comparision to a full chemical cleaning but I feel this help to prevent the spread of germs, especially during flu season. It is also a cheap, quick "preventative medicine" sort of thing. It also leaves your horn nice and minty fresh! Also stay away from green alcohol or heavily colored mouthwash as they contail additives that can leave valves and slides (and pads) gummy and sticky.
I am in a Jr. High school band and play the baritone. It is a school instrument and has seen much better days(it is full of dents and has black stuff all over it). I was curious if applying rubbing alcohol to to the outside of the baritone would damage it or not. Thank you