January 25, 2017

Bagpipe Lung – a piper-MD’s perspective

available to us and to be published in one of their issues would require your work to go through a rigorous review process before being considered.

One quick way of telling how “respectable” a journal is, is to look at the Impact Factor. This assigns a score based on the number of citations its articles get a year, with the higher the score the higher-ranking the journal is.

The article that posed the idea of “Bagpipe Lung” was published in The Thorax journal. This is an international journal that is the official journal of The British Thoracic Society. While it does not compare with the highest-ranking overall journals, when looking at only journals that publish articles in the field of respiratory medicine, it is one of the best.(11) Therefore, we have an article that is published from a reputable source and will have been through a thorough review by the journal prior to publication.

What does this all mean for the piping community, then? We have an article that presents a previously un-described cause of an already rare condition, albeit published in a quality journal. Do BagpipeLung_quote4we discard this work? Or do we stock pile on bleach for the remainder of our playing days? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. It has been widely accepted for a number of years that wind instruments have the potential to cause lung disease and so it’s hardly surprising that the bagpipes have now been shown to do just that.

The notion that playing bagpipes is “dangerous” or, as some news outlets labelled it, “deadly,” is unjustified. These are very rare conditions that often have very complex underlying genetics that predispose these individuals to such conditions. With sensible cleaning (e.g., brushing mouth pieces, replacing sheepskin bags) there’s no reason why playing the bagpipes should pose a health risk. However, without multiple pieces of strong evidence it is impossible to say for sure one way or the other. Until such time, I’ll probably leave the bleach for now . . .


  1. King J, Richardson M, Quinn A, Holme J, Chaudhuri N. Bagpipe lung; a new type of interstitial lung disease? Thorax. 2016 (0) p1-3.
  2. BBC News. Bagpipe Lung Warning for Musicians. BBC News Online © 2016 [cited January 2017]
  3. Miller M. “Bagpipe lung” announced as cause of man’s death – two years later. Independent News Online © 2016 [cited January 2017]
  4. Chen A. “Bagpipe lung” fungi kill piper, doctors say. CNN Online © 2016 [cited January 2017]
  5. ABC News. “Bagpipe lung” death prompts warning for wind musicians. ABC News Online © 2016 [cited January 16]
  6. Davies M. Could you have bagpipe lung? Warning over toxic mould inside wind instruments like the trombone and saxophone. Daily Mail Online © 2016 [cited January 2017]
  7. Knapton S. Playing the bagpipes daily could be fatal, warn doctors. The Telegraph Online © 2016 [cited January 2017]
  8. Szabo L. Death by bagpipe: Man’s lung illness linked to mould in instrument. USA Today Online. © 2016 [cited January 2017]
  9. Hsieh C. Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis Epidemiology. Medscape. © 2016 [cited January 2017]
  10. Shimberg Health Sciences Library. Evidence Based Practice. © 2016 [cited January 2017]
  11. Scimago Journal and Country Rank. Journal Rankings. © 2016 [cited January 2017]

Lachie Dick is an emerging solo piping prize-winner on the Scottish scene, and has played with the Grade 1 Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia and is now the pipe-major of the Grade 2 City of Edinburgh. Originally from North Uist, Scotland, he practices medicine in Paisley, Scotland, at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.





Forgotten Password?