Saxophone lungs - When music flows out and disease flows in

  • By Team TDO

People playing wind: instruments like the flute, clarinet, saxophone, bagpiper and the likes are at high risk of developing lung diseases.

An interesting case study was presented at a recent annual conference held at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, in which a man who was coughing and wheezing consistently when he sought medical intervention. Initially diagnosed as Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis, a fungal infection, and was treated for the same with oral steroids.
Later, after several tests and imaging studies, the doctors found evidence of a different fungus called Exophiala. The man had developed allergic reaction to this specific fungus and not aspergillus as diagnosed earlier.

Detailed case study revealed that the man was a clarinet player and had not cleaned his instrument in over 30 years. Study of the insides of the clarinet revealed the presence of the same fungi, Exophiala.
It is essential to identify and treat the condition. The symptoms will not go away completely unless the causative factor is eliminated.

This was proved well in another case in New York of a 15 year old saxophone player whose shortness of breath went away only when he thoroughly cleaned his instrument and sterilized it.

Bacteria, yeast and fungi are capable of surviving for a long time inside a conducive environment. The insides of a wind instrument are one such perfect environment. Cases of infections spreading by using such instruments that are rented or loaned are numerous. School bands, band players for ceremonies like marriages and such should take particular care to clean the instruments thoroughly before and after use.

Saxophone Lung, as doctors at the conference named the disease, is not a typical allergic reaction seen in clinics every day. It is important to keep the possibility at the back of the mind while diagnosing a case.