MUSICIANS have been warned to avoid “bagpipe lung” after fungus growing inside the instrument was linked to the death of one player.

Trumpet, saxophone and clarinet players are also urged to take care as experts believe the moist interiors of wind instruments may foster the growth of dangerous moulds.

The warning comes after a man died of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a chronic inflammatory lung condition thought to have been triggered by exposure to microbes growing inside his bagpipes.

Also known as extrinsic allergic alveolitis, the condition is caused by an allergic reaction by the lungs to something that has been inhaled.

Symptoms include coughing and breathlessness, potentially leading to long-term damage and scarring to the lungs. In the worst cases, the condition can be disabling or even fatal and is often associated with occupational exposure to birds, particularly pigeons.

However, in a significant proportion of cases the cause is unclear and doctors writing in the Thorax medical journal believe they have now discovered a new trigger.

The finding relates to a 61-year-old man who had suffered a dry cough and progressive breathlessness for seven years, despite treatment with immunosuppressant drugs.

He was admitted to hospital in 2014 as his condition deteriorated, leaving him unable to walk more than 20 metres and struggling to breathe.

Although he had been diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis five years earlier, the cause was unclear – he had never been a smoker, his home did not harbour mould or show signs of water damage, and he did not keep birds.

However, he was a piper and when samples were taken from the bag, neck and chanter reed protector, tests revealed six different varieties of potentially harmful bacteria.

Despite treatment, the patient died and a post mortem revealed extensive lung damage consistent with acute respiratory distress syndrome, where the lungs cannot provide enough oxygen to the rest of the body, and scarring.

The medics say this is an isolated case and the cause of the man’s illness was not definitively proven. However, they claim similar cases of hypersensitivity pneumonitis have been found in trombone and saxophone players.

Meanwhile, the man’s condition was seen to improve during a three-week break to Australia in 2011, during which he did not play the pipes.

The report, led by Dr Jenny King of University Hospital South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust, states: “This is the first case report identifying fungal exposure, from a bagpipe player, as a potential trigger for the development of [hypersensitivity pneumonitis].

“The clinical history of daily bagpipe playing, coupled with marked symptomatic improvement when this exposure was removed, and the identification of multiple potential precipitating antigens isolated from the bagpipes, make this the likely cause.”

The report warns any type of wind instrument could be contaminated with yeasts and moulds, making players susceptible to the risk of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and cleaning instruments immediately after use and allowing them to drip dry could theoretically curb the risk of microbe growth.

The warning comes after thousands of performers from around the world descended on Scotland for the annual Piping Live! festival, which includes the annual World Pipe Band Championships.

This year 8,000 musicians from 15 different countries took part in the tournament in Glasgow earlier this month.