The Hidden Dangers of Playing a Wind Instrument

Scientists and others have long speculated on the health effects of playing a wind instrument. Below is article from the archives of the New York Times which illustrates the prevailing wisdom in the decades following the Civil War:

Sousaphone players: dead men marching

We now know that playing a wind instrument is far from a death sentence and Dr. Burg should be commended for his efforts to dispel this myth. With that in mind, the arguments presented touting the wind instruments’ tuberculosis-curing properties are less than convincing. Click “Read more” to see what modern science has to contribute to question of wind instruments and their effects on respiratory health.

1985
Schorr-Lesnik et al. published a paper in the journal Chest investigating the pulmonary function of wind players. He writes:

We found no significant difference between [wind players an non-wind players] in maximum voluntary ventilation, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC), mean forced expiratory flow during the middle half of the FVC, the FEV1/FVC, peak expiratory pressure, or peak inspiratory pressure, independently or when corrected for age, sex, height, weight, years performing, smoking, presence or absence of cough, or sputum production (Schorr-Lesnik et al.).

In short, no aspect of lung function or performance was superior in those who regularly played wind instruments (when compared with those who did not). You can read the full abstract from Dr. Schorr-Lesnik’s findings here:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4017673#

2011
In a long overdue follow-up to Dr. Burg’s initial investigation, the New York times recently published an article reexamining the respiratory health of wind players. Their conclusion: not cleaning your instrument can increase the risk of certain respiratory infections. You can read the full article here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/24/health/24really.html

In closing, a nod to two of the biggest lungs in music – those belonging to the 6’6″, “Long Tall Dexter” Gordon:

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