January 07, 2010

Can Playing a Wind/Brass Instrument Be a Source of Recurrent Infections?

Is playing a wind/brass instrument a significant factor for recurrent strep, URI's, sinus infections, etc in people? Is such use contagious? If so, how does one even go about "sterilizing" the instrument after use by a sick person so that they don't infect themself again as well as players around them when blowing into it?

I got asked these questions by one astute parent of a trumpet player. After some inquiries and research, I actually don't have a good answer to whether they may be contagious and a source of germs, though it would make sense that they would be (well-known medical principle being bacteria grows in dark wet areas).

In any case, there are various techniques as well as common sense to try and semi-sterilize the instrument to prevent potential bacterial growth deep in the pipes of wind/brass instruments:

1) Don't share your instrument! Here's a journal article regarding the hazards of sharing instruments.
2) Thoroughly dry out the instrument after use via air and brush.
3) Never play the instrument while you are sick.
4) Replace the reed if it looks nasty. Clean mouthpiece thoroughly daily.
5) Brass instruments can indeed be washed in the bathtub with warm soapy water (not so for silver!)
6) Many players commonly angle their instruments up in the air when playing allowing some fluid to drain back. This practice can create a path for harmful bacteria to make its way back into the mouth from the body of the instrument. Try and avoid doing this!

There is also this one company that claims to help with musical instrument sterilization.


This issue was so concerning in Massachusetts, that a law is being passed to require sterilization of musical instruments in schools! Read more here.

Here's a NPR news article on a trombone player whose instrument  caused a chronic cough due to mold contamination.

Do readers have any other suggestions? Please post a comment!

- A microbiological survey into the presence of clnically significant bacteria in the mouthpieces and internal surfaces of woodwind and brass musical instruments. Link

- Horn with nasty microbes. Link
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.


Anonymous said...

Last year, I promised my son that I'll get him his first musical instrument of his choice. A couple of days before his birthday, I noticed my son shutting himself in his room researching for the different musical instruments and even brass tubing suppliers in our area. His uncle is a great musician and my son adores him. Yesterday, I bought him his very first trumpet. I have to say, I'm glad that I came across your blog because I hate to see my son sick. I'll better tell him about the danger of sharing his musical instrument. Thanks for sharing this informative post!

Jon said...

Sharing instruments isn't normally a problem, as long as they are cleaned regularly. Brass mouthpieces however should washed and sterilized with boiling water if someone else is to use it. (Make sure to wait until the mouthpiece cools before playing on it!!!)

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